When I plan out my vegetable garden, I always choose my tomato varieties first, decide which raised beds to plant them in, and then plan out the rest of the garden, working around the tomatoes.
When I choose tomato varieties, I look at the pictures and the descriptions and try to pick a nice mix of red, pink, yellow, slicing, cooking, cherry, old favorites, new varieties, and whatever else just looks good to me. This requires a certain amount of concentration and self-restraint, because in the dead of winter, every tomato variety looks good.
But I never ask myself when I’m looking at all the tomato varieties, “will this tomato variety do well in my garden”. It never occurred to me growing up or even later in life that there might be tomato varieties that wouldn’t grow well in my Zone 5 garden.
Sure, we have “good tomato years” and “not so good tomato years”, but I can’t recall, or have blocked it as too unpleasant to even think about, any “bad tomato years”. I live and garden where tomatoes just grow. Even at the state fair last summer, the sign proudly proclaimed that Indiana is second in the United States in growing tomatoes for processing.
But I’ve come to realize that in other parts of the country, tomatoes don’t just grow with such abandon, varieties must be chosen more carefully to withstand heat, short growing seasons, even nematodes. MSS at Zanthan Gardens is one of several gardeners who helped me come to this realization, as she continues to try to find varieties of tomatoes that will grow and produce in the heat of Austin, Texas summers.
She recently listed the tomato varieties she is considering and asked others with experience growing any of them to offer their opinions.
It appears from her list of tomato varieties under consideration that she and I will both be growing ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’. ‘Black Cherry’ is a repeat for me. I grew it last year for the first time and liked it a lot. It tastes more like a big tomato but isn’t as prolific as most cherry tomatoes. ‘Cherokee Purple’, on the other hand, is a new variety for me to grow.
Here is the complete list of my tomato selections for this year, the 2009 Royal Family of my vegetable garden:
‘Ace’ – This is a bush, or determinate type tomato. I always buy indeterminate varieties and stake my tomatoes, but decided I would branch out this summer and try a determinate variety and cage it. (80 days)
‘Aunt Anna’ – I don’t have an aunt named Anna but this just looked like a nice red tomato and one that could grow to “massive size”. It might be useful if there is a biggest tomato contest this summer.
‘Beefsteak’ – Doesn’t everyone grow this variety? (85 days)
‘Black Cherry’ – see above
‘Cherokee Purple’ – Why not grow this one, and show everyone that I don’t always grow the same varieties every year, that I’m not such a creature of habit as some might think. Plus, I’ve never grown a dark tomato like this one, so it is about time I did! (80 days)
‘Fireworks’ – I must do better with earlier ripening tomatoes. It was embarrassing how late in the summer it was before I harvested my first tomato last year. I think maybe this will be an earlier ripening tomato, maybe even ripening by early July. (70 days)
‘German Johnson’ – I grew this variety two (or three?) years ago for the first time. It’s a pink tomato, very flavorful, and I don’t share them with anyone. I eat them all myself. Last year, this is the variety that gave me the World’s Ugliest Tomato, but it still one of the best tomatoes I know of.
‘Gold Nugget’ – I grow cherry tomatoes like these so that I have snacks I can eat right in the garden.
‘Illini Star’ – It occurred to me while reading through all the tomato choices that there might be some that are better suited to the Midwest. Illinois, for those who don’t have a map handy, is the next state west of Indiana, and is a lot like Indiana, except they usually get rain a few hours before we do, so this tomato ought to grow well in my garden, right? (65 – 70 days)
‘Kentucky Beefsteak’ – This is an orange tomato, and might be a lot like ‘Beefsteak’. I’ll compare the two and let you know.
‘Pink Oxheart’ – It just sounded good. And it is heart shaped.
‘Red Currant’ – This is the tiniest tomato you’ll ever grow, as I found out two summers ago when I had a “tiniest tomato” contest and Chigiy beat me fair and square with this variety. Never again, though, because I grow it now, too. These are also very cute in salads.
‘San Marzano’ – I’ve heard that this variety is one of the best for making sauces and pastes and canning. I’ve never canned before, but you just never know, I might try it this summer because my grandmother was a big-time canner. Or I might not. I’m mostly growing it to keep my options open.
Those are the lucky 13 tomato varieties that will be growing in my garden this summer, but it will soon be 14. MSS had such a good review of ‘Persimmon’, that I’m adding it to my list and ordering a packet of seeds for them as soon as I have my “oops I forgot to order” list ready to go.
Who else is growing tomatoes in their vegetable garden this year?