Tomatoes are consistently the most popular vegetable in American gardens. But for most of us, just any old tomato won’t do.
Some like a red tomato, some a yellow one, an orange one or a purple one. Some prefer tomatoes tiny and sweet. Some want them huge and rich flavored. Some like tomatoes juicy, others like them dense and meaty. Fortunately, there are hundreds of tomatoes to choose from – a tomato for everyone.
If you’ve been growing tomatoes for a few years, you probably already have a couple of favorites. But don’t just plant the same variety year after year. Plant a variety of tomatoes – at least one beefsteak tomato, one slicing tomato, one cherry and one or two more just for fun. Since I started keeping track a few years ago, I’ve logged almost 200 different varieties in my garden, but I still plant several new ones every year. Here’s what I think are the best varieties for flavor, production, vigor and disease resistance.
Momotaro: Still the best tasting red slicing tomato – period. Introduced to gardeners from Japan, ‘Momotaro’ has achieved nearly cult status among those who plant home grown tomatoes. The fruit isn’t very large, but the production is heavy and the flavor is the best; rich and sweet with the perfect balance of sugars and acids.
Sun Gold and Suncherry: The tastiest and sweetest of all the cherry tomatoes. At least one of these should be grown in every garden. It amazes me that people still plant older varieties like ‘Sweet 100’. ‘Sungold’ is a golden yellow, ‘Suncherry’ is bright red, but other than color, the two are nearly indistinguishable. Both are fast producers and vigorous growers. Give them a sturdy cage. Don’t waste your money on those three dollar, two-foot models. Get ready for the harvest; a couple of years ago I picked over 1,200 fruit from a single plant!
Marianna’s Peace: If you’ve tried other big beefsteak varieties like ‘Brandywine’, Mortgage Lifter’ and others only to give up because of poor production, ugly fruit or poor disease tolerance, then it’s time to grow ‘Marianna’s Peace’. This is an heirloom variety that was introduced just a couple of years ago and originally sold for $5 per seed. It is difficult to find, but the fruit are huge, well-shaped and have a flavor that is truly what a tomato should be. Rich, meaty and full-bodied. The best beefsteak type tomato.
Stupice: If you just can’t get the knack of growing tomatoes, have tried every year and only getting a few lopsided, leathery fruit then you haven’t grown ‘Stupice’. This has to be the most durable and reliable tomato on the market today. The fruit aren’t very large, but the flavor is outstanding and the production huge. If you can’t grow ‘Stupice’ then head to the grocery store – you should give up gardening.
Aunt Ruby’s German Green: If you’re squeamish, eat this one with your eyes closed. Yes, it’s green when ripe. But if you can get over the thought of a green tomato, the flavor will win you over. Not a heavy producer, but each huge fruit will be cherished. The best tasting tomato I’ve ever grown (I know I already said that, but whose checking).
Black Cherry: A good grower with a great sweet, rich, complex flavor that adds a new color to your cherry tomato options.
Noir Charboneuse: There are a lot of “black” tomatoes on the market now and almost all of them are good. I especially like the salty, smoky flavor of black tomatoes for salsa. ‘Noir Charboneuse’ is outstanding. If you can’t find it try ‘Black from Tula’, Black Prince’ or ‘Black Krim’ – all are good.
Green Grape: Another fun variety, but with great flavor. Perfectly round cherry tomatoes that are green when ripe. The juicy fruit are plentiful and perfect for snacking on – not too sweet to spoil the flavor of salads and other foods.
Hawaiian Pineapple: There are several “yellow” tomatoes on the market now, but I’ve never found one with great tomato flavor. ‘Hawaiian Pineapple’ however, has a wonderful, sweet, tropical flavor. When sliced, it’s a wonder just too look at, a marbled blend of golden yellow, with blotches and streaks of red. A very productive heirloom with large beefsteak-size fruit.
Garden Peach: If you want to experiment a little, this heirloom variety is a good candidate. ‘Garden Peach’ isn’t like other tomatoes. The small, light yellow fruit are slightly fuzzy to the touch and soft. But the flavor is delicate, sweet and fruit-like at the same time. A gourmet variety.
Why not grow one of each?
Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar