I Can’t Say No To Tomatoes

Tomatoes are without a doubt the most popular vegetable grown by backyard gardeners in the U.S. And it’s easy to see why: they are reasonably easy to grow, yield well, and taste so much better than any tomato you can buy in a grocery store. They also come in a mind-boggling array of colors, sizes and shapes. And that’s where the problem begins for me, because I want to grow them all!

This year I am growing 36 varieties of tomatoes. I know, it’s crazy, but that’s what I just counted. About 2/3s of them are hybrids and 1/3 are open pollinated heirlooms. I’ve not really gotten into saving tomato seed myself, though I know it’s easy and I’ve certainly done it from time to time. I’m more interested in experimenting.

I’m not going to go into how to grow tomatoes here. For one thing, I don’t consider myself an expert, even though I’ve been growing them for some 30-odd years now and have likely planted a few thousand along the way. There’s a lot of good books that cover the subject, and one of my new favorites is “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” by Edward C. Smith. It’s a good reference book for most vegetables.

A good book about heirloom tomatoes is appropriately called “The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden to Table”  by Amy Goldman. This large book is filled with 200 lovely photos of heirloom tomatoes, along with descriptions and history. This would make a great coffee table book, if we only had a coffee table! I know a lot of people are interested in heirloom tomatoes these days, and here’s a great online resource for information about these varieties.

And I also urge everyone in the U.S. to call their friendly county extension agent if they have questions about growing tomatoes, or have problems with growing them. Those folks are well versed on the problems unique to your area.  Plus, it’s your tax dollars at work, so why not take advantage of their services! I would also caution against believing everything you read on the web, or in blogs (including this one). While there’s a lot of good information out there, there’s also a lot of misinformation too.

I’ll divide the tomatoes I’m growing into three categories. The ten varieties with an asterisk (*) are being grown here for the first time. First we have the slicers – those big juicy tomatoes that are perfect for eating by themselves or for putting on sandwiches. Several of these are being tested to see if they are suitable for our food pantry gardens. This year I am growing:

  • Better Boy
  • Brandy Boy
  • Brandywine Sudduth’s Strain(OP)
  • Brandywine OTV(OP)
  • Celebrity
  • Champion
  • Champion 2
  • Druzba(OP) (*)
  • Early Girl
  • Giant Belgium(OP)
  • Golden Queen(OP)
  • Jetsetter (*)
  • Jetsonic
  • Magnus(OP) (*)
  • Moreton (*)
  • Ramapo
  • Whopper

I know that’s a lot of slicers, but remember this is also a test garden. I need to see how a variety is going to do before I plant 100 of them! And the only way to do that is to grow them out here in our climate. I did plant a few Mountain Spring plants for trial at the church garden, but I ran out of room to try one here.

Next we have the small fruited varieties, which we use for things like salads and snacking, but then we also dry a lot of these. Juliet, Principe Borghese and Golden Rave are our favorites for dehydrating. All three of these are even better dried than fresh, in my opinion. If you haven’t ever tried drying tomatoes, you might consider experimenting. We find the smaller ones to be quicker to dry and better suited overall for this use. My wife had a post about the dehydrator last year.

  • Black Cherry(OP) (*)
  • Fox Cherry(OP) (*)
  • Green Zebra
  • Golden Rave
  • Jaune Flammee(OP) (*)
  • Juliet
  • Jenny
  • Princepe Borghese(OP)
  • Sapho
  • Sun Gold
  • Sweet Baby Girl

Finally we have the paste varieties, which we use for cooking, sauces and freezing whole.

  • Amish Paste(OP) (*)
  • Big Mama
  • Health Kick
  • Opalka(OP)
  • Pompeii
  • San Marzano(OP) (*)
  • Super Marzano (*)
  • Viva Italia

We’re already harvesting some of the small fruited varieties like Sun Gold, Sweet Baby Girl, Jenny and Juliet. The early slicers (Early Girl, Moreton, Champion 1 & 2, and Jetsetter) won’t be far behind. I’ve been eyeing a couple of the Early Girls. They should be ready for our 4th of July cookout.

Early Girl

Mmm, I can almost taste them now! The Moretons are also starting to turn. This was one I got from Rutgers when I ordered the Ramapo seed last year. I may have grown it years ago, but I can’t remember. It will be interesting to try it, as it seems to be as early as Early Girl and a bit bigger. Early Girl is often our first and last tomato each year though, so it is doubtful it will be dethroned anytime soon.


Of course, in the end it’s mainly about the taste. Red, yellow, gold, pink or green, every variety tastes a bit different, and some do better in one year than they do in others. That’s part of the fun of gardening to me – experimenting and trying new things. In fact, I’ve already got a list started of varieties to try in 2011. I really can’t say no to tomatoes!

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