The Tomato Dilemma: What kinds should I plant?comments (10) May 15th, 2010
If you're just starting out as a vegetable gardner, the countless tomato types available is overwhelming. How do you know what to plant? What's right for your garden space? What's right for your tastes?
I'm heading into my third season as a veggie gardener and am just starting to figure it out. In this short blog post, I'll share what worked and what didn't for me. Maybe it can help others facing the same “what to plant?” conundrum. And for any seasoned tomato growers out there... share your advice. What tomato varieties do you to plant?
Buy well-labeled plants and try many varieties
My first year I wanted to try the sought-after heirloom tomatoes. Silly me, I bought the a six-pack of seedlings at a garden center simply labeled “heirlooms.” I had no clue what varietal they were.
They never turned red that summer. Did they ripen? I don't know. Maybe they were the kind that stayed green when ripe. Maybe there was something wrong with my gardening technique? Who knows... regardless, I tried some and the flavor did not impress.
Lesson learned? Find out the specific kind you're planting. If you don't, you can't learn from your experience for future seasons. I also wouldn't recommend planting a ton of the same type at first--then you're putting all your eggs in one basket. Try out a selection to see what works well for you and your space.
Vine or bush? Support 'em well
You also want to find out if your tomatoes are “vining” (indeterminate) or “bush” (determinate) style tomatoes. This will help you figure out how to support and prune the tomatoes.
This is another reason for buying well-labeled plants—my first season, I didn't know what type they were so I was confused about what to do with advice from pruning articles like this since there are different tips depending on whether you have determinate or indeterminate plants.
Try reliable varieties
Go easy on yourself in the beginning. Try out well-recommended, tried-and-true varietals so you can hopefully get some success your first year and won't loose interest in the hobby.
Here's what worked well for me last year:
- Sun gold: Incredibly sweet. My most productive plant last year and the fruits arrived early too.
- Sweet 100s: Tried these in 2008—another tasty and prolific variety.
- Grape tomatoes: Also prolific tomato. I won't try this year though... tI buy a hot-house version of this variety all year long from the grocery store.
- Roma tomatoes: Good production. Small types grow easier in my garden.
- Celebrity and Carmello: These tomatoes were recommended on several gardening sites. They performed well until the blight struck in 2009.
- New Yorker: Fantastic patio plant. In a year of blight, my patio plants loved their containers—warmer and drier than their brethren in the garden blot.
- Window Box Roma: Another great container plant.
- Isis Candy: Good potential. I only actually got 4 small cherry size tomatoes from this plant, but I think it was user error. I used too small a pot and put this indeterminate (vining) tomato on the deck. It would have been happier in the garden, but the few I tried were tasty. I want to try again.
My do-not-repeat list
I ran into trouble with two tomato plants:
- Cuban Yellow Grape: It didn't amaze me. Pests attacked its soft and delicate leaves. The fruit was fine, but the plant wasn't very robust.
- Principe Borghese: I didn't have much luck with this paste tomato plant. It didn't seem to like my garden.
My plan for this year:
- Cherry tomatoes: Sun Gold, Sweet 100 (from seed), Isis Candy
- Small size fruit: Roma (from seed), San Marzano (from seed), a Burpee sweet salad hybrid (from seed) that I'll try in a container.
- Larger tomatos: Two New Jersey tomatoes: Rutgers and Ramapo and maybe Green Zebra.
Other info sources
- A Rutgers survey: For more information on tomato types, the New York Times cited a Rutgers survey of best tasting tomatoes (it's at the bottom of this page). Here's what they called as the best tasting tomatoes: Large tomatoes: Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter (also known as Radiator Charlie’s), Hawaiian Pineapple, Pruden’s Purple. Medium-size tomatoes: Eva Purple Ball, Arkansas Traveler, Box Car Willie, Lemon Boy, Costoluto Genovese, Ramapo, Brandywine Red, Green Zebra. Small tomatoes: Snow White, Isis Candy, Yellow Pear.
- Cornell University also offers a tomato/vegetable ranking tool. These are some of their most popular/most rated types: Sungold Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Celebrity, Stupice, Early Girl, and Jet Star.
- One gardener completely unscientific approach to selecting tomato types in this blog post.
- Suggestions for selecting paste tomatoes.
- Advice on unusual tomato types from VegetableGardener.com's Ruth Dobsevage.
Do you agree? Disagree with the variety of suggestions above? Have any additional advice? Post a comment below.
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