NO, DON’T START TOMATO SEEDS YET, unless you are in some place far warmer than the snow cave I am lately residing in. But it’s prime time to shop for them—if you’re prepared to be overwhelmed at the choices. Some top tomatoes I have my eye on for 2014’s garden—and I hope you’ll tell me yours.
black is the new red
The “black” tomatoes (more brownish-purple than anything near black) often have a flavor that’s described as smoky, or earthy. You may have grown ‘Black Krim’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’—two very good ones—and now I’m eyeing ‘Carbon,’ which people are talking about. Same with ‘Paul Robeson,’ a tomato with a great taste (and a great story).
Want a black cherry tomato to mix things up in the salad bowl (that link will take you to one, as will this one)? Thinking larger, and darker: At the extreme of dark tomato color there’s open-pollinated ‘Indigo Rose,’ an Oregon State University development (photo above from High Mowing Seeds). It’s the first tomato with a truly black outside, and looks just like a plum.
for reliable sauce
Is there sauce in your future? I was for decades a diehard ‘Roma’ person, but the last several years I instead make sure that lovely ‘Juliet,’ a sturdy hybrid with big clusters of a dozen or more 2-inch fruit, is here to guarantee a crop. The open-pollinated ‘Amish Paste’ (like ‘Juliet,’ whose photo is below, it’s juicy and tasty for use in salads, too) and ‘Gilbertie’ paste are my other top contenders.
Did you have tomato troubles last year—spotted leaves, defoliating plants and such? What about trying the first “triple-resistant” tomato, resistant to early blight, septoria and late blight, from the Cornell-North Carolina State breeding program? Well-named ‘Iron Lady’ is a determinate, mid-sized red slicer. (Again: Among sauce-making types, ‘Juliet’ is one tough girl, too, in my conditions.) If late blight, specifically, was your issue, this story from the archive offers additional advice (or read all about other tomato troubles at this link).
tasty golden cherries
I can’t imagine the summer garden without the tropical-fruity flavored ‘Sun Gold’ (a hybrid), but admittedly its can have the troublesome tendency to crack. The newer ‘Esterina’ is crack-resistant, and very sweet and complex-flavored (though admittedly without that tropical tang). And what about ‘Galina’? I’ve heard tell she is a distinctive little golden thing, too.
not your average ‘sweet million’
Want to try something different in red cherry tomatoes–not the same ubiquitous hybrids from the garden centers? Two I have enjoyed many times over the years: ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ (a profusion of small fruit, originally introduced by Johnny’s) and the larger, extra-delicious ‘Chadwick’s Cherry’ (named for the bio-intensive garden guru Alan Chadwick). Turtle Tree Seeds has both.
extra-early dwarfs, grown in pots
One for a pot, perhaps? My friend Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl dot com loves the little guys—dwarf tomatoes, which fruit faster than larger plants. To further speed them along, she starts charmers with names like ‘Whippersnapper’ extra-early (in March, versus April for her other tomatoes); here’s the lowdown on the tastiest of the lot, for pots.
but which brandywine?
I often say, “A Brandywine isn’t a Brandywine isn’t a Brandywine,” meaning with heirloom and other open-pollinated varieties, what you get depends how carefully the seed farmer selected to keep their strain true to type. And then there are also the variations by color: a pink and a red, and even a yellow (photo above)—shall we try all three?
biggest of the biggies
I can’t stop thinking of the whopper of a tomato I met at an event at Hudson Valley Seed Library last year, a tomato called ‘Upstate Oxheart’ (above). Insane. and so tasty, too. Oh, how can I make room for all of these varieties?
I know—I’ve left out entire categories (such as striped tomatoes, or extra-early slicers, or…). But that’s where you hopefully come in. Any must-have tomatoes to suggest?