more tomato secrets

NO VEGETABLE IS MORE COMMONLY GROWN by home gardeners than the tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum), but that doesn’t mean you should grow the same common varieties year in and out. More than 100 kinds are available in specialty catalogs as plants these days if you don’t have seeds around to start right now (and I mean right now) for transplanting outdoors the first week of June. Don’t settle for the mundane; sow seed before the end of the month or order plants for delivery after Memorial Day. Want to know which nurseries have a really great selection?

Although ‘Sweet 100’ and its later sibling ‘Sweet Million’ probably dominate the cherry-tomato market, even among these little tomatoes there are outstanding alternatives to be had: ‘Chadwick’s Cherry,’ carried as seed or plants by Bountiful Gardens, is an ample, golfball-size with good tomato taste; ‘Sungold’ (shown, next to two red ‘Sweet 100’ fruits) is tangerine-orange and very tasty. Your local nursery should have this.

For novelty in a salad tomato, try ‘Black Prince’ (mahogany brown and juicy inside) or pink-fleshed ‘Oxheart’. There are better paste tomatoes than the standard ‘Roma’, too, like ‘Super Italian Paste’ and ‘San Marzano’ (both large-fruited).

I have not even scratched the surface, of course. Territorial Seed has more than 80 kinds of tomatoes as plants for mail-order, including many, like ‘Stupice,’ rated especially for their productivity in short growing seasons like mine.

I have long used the cages of all cages (and my other tomato advice). [Update: A tomato breeder suggests that staking and pruning, rather than caging, may be a better choice to help combat tomato disease if you’ve had issues.] More to come, of course, closer to planting time. Promise.

  1. Andrew Ritchie says:

    All I’ve got is a balcony so I was wondering whether tomato plants can be grown in pots. Any special varieties that work well? Any special tricks?

    I just love popping fresh tomatoes in my mouth, freshly picked from the garden.


  2. Terri Clark says:

    I must admit to being a tomato and corn harlot! I would do almost anything for the best of both. I am born and raised about 70 miles north of NYC where the hot summers meant the best tomatoes in the world, warm off the vine, and if you are lucky, homemade mayonaise to make a happy marriage of flavours. Gardening on the Pacific Northwest Coast has had its challenges due to the milder heat in July and August but I love growing a wide variety from seed. This year I have 5 different kinds, and yes, there will be far too many but I have solved that as I share them with the “garden gals”, eight firends who meet once a month for a home-cooked breakfast and plant/advice exchange. Up in the greenhouse already are Tomatoes Consoluto, Black Krim, Super Sweet. Sungold cherry and Persimmon. I’ll keep everyone posted on how they get on in the “patch”.

  3. Bonnie says:

    Ooooh- I like those cages. And his accent is great. Hmmm, we’ll see how mine hold up from last year but I know where I’ll get replacements if they don’t!

  4. margaret says:

    Welcome, Bonnie.
    Yes–they’re great cages. What I really loved was seeing them hanging flat and neatly in the shed when I went to get my gardening stuff out this spring–not tripping over them, like the ones that didn’t fold and took up the whole garage.
    I look forward to seeing you here again.

  5. vertie says:

    I love to see that Texas tomato cages are taking over the world. I built my own version recently to deal with my tomatoes. I do wish they would fold, but at least I can stack them inside of each other.

    My tomatoes will be on the way out as yours are on the way in. It will be nice to at least virtually enjoy a tomato harvest all summer.

  6. margaret says:

    Welcome, Vertie.
    Ah, yes, an endless year of fresh tomatoes…virtually. Good thought. You can post the photos on our Urgent Garden Question Forums and make all our mouths water up here in the North (if you really want to hurt a girl). Seriously, though, we’d all love to see the cages you built, and the forums let you upload photos if you care to.
    Thanks again for joining us.

  7. margaret says:

    Sorry–it doesn’t work in some browsers apparently, simply tomatocage.com (with the http or www beforehand). Texas Tomato Cages is the company.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Hi, Margaret,

    I’ve currently got 20 little seedlings — Neve’s Azorean Red, Brandywine, Aunt Gertie’s Gold, Golden Queen and my personal favorite, Cherokee — under lights in my Manhattan apartment. I move them up to NWCT after Memorial day.

    I didn’t cage last year, my first year growing tomatoes, but I plan to this year. I couldn’t get your link to “cage of all cages” to work. Possible to send me the URL directly?

    Many thanks, Stephanie

  9. Sabina says:

    I’m new to gardening and planted sungold and sweet cluster tomatoes in containers earlier this season. The first tomatoes are beginning to get color, but an odd thing is happening to the clusters: Many have a flat greenish/brown underside with a small brown dried something (leaf? pest?) hanging out of them–not looking good! The sungolds are doing fine. Any idea what could be happening? Many thanks!

  10. radish says:

    I have now ordered lots of tomato seeds. Before I realized that it was wrong, I was going to go the windowsill route. I live in Puget Sound and have taken your advice to buy Russian tomatoes. All seeds that I have purchased are early or ulta early. What happens if you plant them outside in May? Do they tend to catch up? This whole light thing puts me off.

    1. margaret says:

      Nice to see you again, Sally. Technically yes, you can direct-sow tomato seed and the plants will grow and even flower and fruit, perhaps. And if this is to work this will be most productive with the short-season ones that you purchased. But…(and there always is one): A tomato seedling with 6 to 8 weeks of indoor prep will flower and fruit sooner, taking advantage of what summertime heat you do have to produce maximum fruit in the warmest months, and therefore producing maximum yields compared to a direct-sown one if it proves to be a cool or short summer, especially.

      I wouldn’t risk my whole crop on direct-sown tomatoes, so could you perhaps rig a small light setup and start some plants and then direct-sow others, an experiment? I always get lots of self-sown tomato plants from leftover fruits that spilled their seed over the winter, but they are never the most productive (and my summers are hotter than yours). If you decide to direct-sow, I’d put out black plastic on the row as soon as the weather warms, and really heat up the soil. In case the objection to the lights is a lack of space, know this: You can rig these in a basement or a closet, even. Doesn’t need to be out in the open, in the way.

  11. chigal says:

    Thanks for the links Andrew — I grow tomatoes on a balcony every year. The key seems to be giving them a big enough pot for their type. That means economizing elsewhere so the overall weight load isn’t too great (100 pounds per square foot maximum per code, here, so I aim for much less than that to be safe). I hang most other stuff in baskets so their load is on the beam above including cherry tomatoes, which I’ve found to be foolproof (and I should know).

    I prune the suckers relentlessly from my indeterminate vines, which seems to help. Inconsistent watering caused trouble my first year, but apart from that it’s been worry-free (except for that pesky squirrel). Good luck! There are lots of tips out there and I’m finding that the more advice (not gimmicks or gizmos) I try out on my vines, the better my results. And I haven’t had to give up on the big beauties I’d rather grow than “patio” types.

  12. will says:

    i am growing supersweet 100 tomatoes for the first time,but i am unsure whether to pinch out or not,would value any advice.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Bob. Too much Nitrogen, weather that isn’t conducive to flowering/pollination, too much rain, not enough sun…so many things can make tall plants that don’t produce. Where are you and what has your season been like so far?

  13. Linda B Horn says:

    Check out Stupice, an early all round flavorful tomato, and Seeds of Change has my favorite varieties of almost everything.

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