by BRIAN MINTER
May 8, 2007
Each new gardening season brings with it a myriad of new plants. These new guys are sometimes the result of cross breeding, hybridization or the discovery of new varieties from around our ever shrinking world. It is also interesting to see the reintroduction of older varieties, ones that had dropped out of use but are now suddenly making a comeback as heritage plants. Many new varieties quickly gain popularity, stay on the market for a number of years, then sputter out and are seldom heard from again. I often think we have just too many varieties on the market.
Have you looked at the number of tomato varieties in seed catalogues lately? Stokes Seed catalogue lists over 78 varieties this year. Who in the world is going to plant 78 varieties of tomatoes? It must be a nightmare for seed companies attempting to guess how much of each variety will be needed every year, let alone for the poor novice gardener who would be confused with a choice of six varieties! To add to the confusion, each year a whole bunch of new introductions come out.
Certainly there are regional climactic differences that affect the type of plants which thrive in a specific area. Here in the southwest of BC, we must consider our climate and select varieties accordingly. Superb tomatoes can be grown in our home gardens if the plants have the following characteristics. First, they must ripen early. Tomatoes that develop in September often fall victim to blight. Tomatoes must also be resistant to the many diseases, like verticillium and fusarium wilt, that prevail in our wet soils. It is also a good idea to have staking varieties to make sure they are up off the ground where slugs abound. I personally feel that determinate tomatoes are better for our wet region. A determinate tomato is not a stubborn one but rather one which produces a good crop of fruit over a brief period of time.
Let’s start by selecting the best of the smaller tomatoes for our area and work our way up to the larger varieties. ‘Tiny Tim’ has been the old standby cherry tomato. It matures in 45 days from transplanting and produces an abundance of fruit on a compact plant. From the many new varieties of cherry types, it’s hard to make a call, but one you may want to try is ‘Sugar Snack’. If you are looking for lots of sweet cherry tomatoes, then look no further than ‘Sweet Million’ and ‘Sweet 100’. They are the most prolific of all tomatoes. They are also reputed to be the sweetest tomato, and their fruit contains very high concentrations of vitamin C.
The new trailing tomato, ‘Tumbler’, has become the trademark of basket and container varieties. It is easy to grow and produces lots of 1¼ inch bright red, very sweet round fruit so early that even novices will have success. It is the best I’ve seen for ease of production even in ground beds, nice growth habit and flavour. Unfortunately there is a limited number available this year.
The hot trend today is the ‘grape tomato’ that has been available all winter from Mexico and California. On this type, each cluster ripens all at once like a grape. ‘Juliet’ has become the standard bearer. These indeterminate plants can provide up to 350 grape-like fruits, and they are quite tolerant to late blight.
For mid-sized tomatoes, my top picks are ‘Early Girl’, ‘Ultra Girl’ and ‘First Lady’. All mature in 62 to 80 days, producing delicious seven to nine ounce (227 grams) fruit. Many gardeners claim these are the only varieties to grow. ‘Fantastic Hybrid’ is another favourite of many gardeners. Its fruit weighs six to seven ounces (185 grams) and is produced in great abundance in about 70 days. ‘Super Fantastic’ matures in about the same time, and its fruit is a little larger.
Well now, it’s time to get down to the really BIG tomatoes. If anybody is still planting ‘Beefsteak’, may I suggest that you pray for a hot summer or move to the Okanagan! The characteristics of ‘Beefsteak’ can be found in many other tomato varieties. ‘Oregon Spring’ is the first big ‘early guy’ in 75 to 80 days. It’s a large slicing variety that has a good, meaty Beefsteak-type flesh and should ripen by mid-July. Of all the ‘Boy’ tomatoes, ‘Better Boy’ is the true hybrid Beefsteak-type. Its fruit averages around one pound, and it matures in 72 days. It has good flavour, and is one of the most popular tomato varieties. ‘Big Beef’ and ‘Beef Master’ are both Italian Beefsteak-types that have that old fashioned Beefsteak taste and huge 20 ounce sized fruits. Both have good disease tolerance and have won awards.
‘Celebrity’ is resistant to most tomato diseases; produces 12 ounce fruit in about 70 days; is determinate; and the plants are short and husky.
The huge news in tomatoes is the blight resistant variety called ‘Legend’. It was developed at Oregon State University and on a scale of 1 to 10 for blight resistance (10 being the worst), it is a .53. It’s a very early determinate variety that produces fruit four to five inches across. This is the fifth year for this tomato in our region, and there’s been mixed reviews: some give it high praise, while others a thumbs down. My sense is that it’s best to keep them away from your other tomatoes that get blight and spread it to ‘Legend’.
Lycopene is the healthy antioxidant in tomatoes. For the first time ever, we have a tomato, called ‘Healthkick’, that has 50 percent more lycopene than any other variety. This new determinant has a roma plum shape with very sweet fruit weighing about four ounces. It is the healthiest tomato you can eat!
We’re all anxious to get going on our tomatoes, but remember they are heat lovers, so wait until the weather warm.