Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tomatoes: which?

I am not a tomato expert. I am not an expert gardener. I have no qualifications in agriculture, permaculture or botany. With that in mind, here's my experience growing tomatoes. I started out growing them in pots, then in whatever bit of dirt I could find that the landlord wouldn't get upset about. Now we have a proper garden.

Anyway, when looking at varieties to grow, you can basically divide all tomatoes into small (cherry) tomatoes and large (beefsteak) tomatoes. This is overly simplistic with a big grey area in the middle but for simplicity I'll stick with it for now.

Small Tomatoes
Small cherry type tomatoes generally have the strongest flavour. They often grow in long beautiful trusses and can spread into quite large plants and produce over an extended period.

Large Tomatoes
Large tomatoes usually have a more mild flavour, and plants produce large, succulent fruit, perfect for slicing into sandwiches and impressing relatives.

If you're thinking of growing tomatoes for the first time, I recommend cherry tomatos. This is because you will never forget the fantastic flavour and they grow well in pots if you have limited space. There's also the safety in numbers argument. You see it is so disappointing to watch as your large, magnificent tomato starts to ripen, only to find a big hole chewed in it by a villainous caterpillar. All that effort and the fruit is ruined by one insect. With cherry tomatoes you get so many more per plant that you can afford to lose a few and it's no big deal.

So here are some of the varieties I've grown with a few brief notes. Bear in mind this is MY experience, and based on MY own inexpert techniques in MY garden, so any failures are just as likely to be MY fault.

Sweet Bite
A tasty cherry tomato that spread out along a trellis and gave excellent yields.

Cherry Plum
Attractive elongated fruit but not as flavoursome or productive as some other cherry types.

Good large tomato, but keep the bugs away.

Yellow Pear
Small beautiful yellow pear shaped fruit with slightly milder flavour than most cherries. Mix with red ones to provide extra colour to salads. Prolific but tended to run wild and a bit more susceptible to fruit fly than some of the others.

Black Russian
I didn't get great yields from this but the fruit was specacularly dark and flavoursome. I'll be trying this again some time.

San Marzano
An Italian roma-style tomato. Mild in flavour and good for sauces and soups. I've found them more susceptible to blossom end rot than other types, so you need to ensure the soil is prepared with plenty of calcium (from dolomite for instance) and that they receive diligent watering (lower left of photo below).

Low-Acid Yellow
Large yellow fruit but not very flavoursome. Also an absolute magnet for bugs and fruit fly for some reason..

Tommy Toe
This is a new one for me this year but it seem to be very high yielding with tasty fruit about the size of a walnut. Spread out across a trellis and seems pretty robust (right of photo)

Another new one for me with gorgeous striped orange apricot-sized fruit and spectacular flavour (top centre of photo).

Grosse Lisse
A favourite of home growers for many decades.

Tough-Skinned Mutant
This year I had a bunch of volunteer tomatoes, that is they appeared by themselves. I suspect they are some genetic throwback from hybrid store-bought tomatoes thrown in the compost as they taste nice but have skins like leather!

Anyway, this is barely scratching the surface of what's available. I strongly recommend you check out some of the online heirloom seed retailers to see some of the funky fruits available rather than just looking at your local nursery.

Next up: Tips for growing them and keeping the bugs off.

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