Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why Grow So Many Different Tomatoes?

As I was sharing with a friend my list of vegetables to be grown this year, he exclaimed "My goodness, why so many different kinds of tomatoes? They're all the same aren't they? Can't you just grow one variety of tomato?"

How insulting. To me that's like asking "why do you enjoy eating so many different kinds of dessert? Apple Pie, Hot Fudge Sundae, Pineapple Upside Cake, Cherry Pie, Chocolate Cake, Turtle Cheesecake, Peach Cobbler - They're all the same aren't they? Can't you just eat one kind of dessert and never eat any of the others? Variety is the spice of life and there are more tomato varieties available than dessert possibilities, especially for the home gardener. We are not limited to growing only the cultivars that travel well or are long keeping. We can look for flavor and interesting qualities. There are literally hundreds of different types of tomatoes. So how do I decide which ones to grow? When thinking of desserts there are different categories. For instance there are the pies, the cakes, cobblers, ice creams, etc. I think of tomatoes in the same way.

To me there are 2 main categories of tomatoes:

  • Heirloom Tomatoes (open pollinated)
  • Hybrid Tomatoes
  • Each category has 5 main sub-categories:

  • Early type tomatoes
  • Main Season tomatoes
  • Beefsteak Tomatoes
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Paste Tomatoes
  • Each Sub Category can come in several different colors:

  • The obvious red tomatoes
  • The less acid yellow tomatoes
  • Pink, Orange, Green, Purple, and "Black" tomatoes
  • Then there are what I call specialty categories:

  • Clusters or Vine Ripened types
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Varieties suited best to be sun-dried tomatoes
  • Etc.
  • Even within the same category, there are many different tomato flavors. With so many different choices available the question should not be "Can't you grow just one type of tomato?"! The question should be "How do you keep from growing 50 different types of tomatoes?"! That is why I have to cap my tomato team to 20 players (I have to have room for other veggies too).

    I listed the varieties of tomatoes (and everything else) in a previous post, but the list has changed a bit. The main reason for the changes is because after growing Heirloom Brandywines last year, I want to try many other heirlooms. I didn't realize before that Heirloom tomatoes should be considered a whole main category. I will write a whole post about the benefits of heirloom tomatoes soon. As for now, I want to share my updated list. My original strategy was to have two different varieties for most sub-categories. That way if, God forsake, I lose a variety to pest or disease I have a backup. Here is what I will be growing this year:

  • Early Girl (Early type)
  • Celebrity (Main type)
  • Burpee Big Boy (Main type)
  • Park's Whopper (Beefsteak type)
  • Burpee Supersteak(Beefsteak type)
  • Lemon Boy (Main type, yellow)
  • Golden Girl (Hybrid - Main type, yellow)
  • Gardener's Delight (Cherry type - red)
  • Sun Sugar (Cherry type - yellow/orange)
  • Cluster Grande (Cluster - Vine Ripening type)
  • Roma (Paste type - Salsa!)
  • Principe Borghese (Sun-Dried type)
  • As for the heirloom types that I will be trying this year, Park Seeds gave me the idea to grow a "rainbow tomato garden". I bought an heirloom rainbow blend seed pack from them with six different types of tomatoes, all of different colors. The only problem was that the seeds were all mixed together in the pack. I would have to grow all 20 or so seeds to be sure I would get all the varieties. Good idea Park, bad execution. Instead of growing their mix, I went to Pinetree Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds, and Totally Tomatoes and found my "heirloom rainbow" varieties. Here is what I settled upon:

  • Brandywine (red - last year's champion)
  • Dixie Golden Giant (yellow)
  • Kellogg's Breakfast (orange)
  • Caspian Pink (pink)
  • Aunt Ruby's German Green (green)
  • Pruden's Purple (purple)
  • Black Krim (black)
  • Last but not least I found a variety called Kentucky Beefsteak. It is an old fashioned giant orange heirloom originating from the hills of Eastern Kentucky. I just had to have it since I live and garden in Kentucky, and my brother lives in Eastern Kentucky. This one's for you Bro!

    There you have it - this year's top twenty tomato types. They have all recently been repotted into peat pots and are still living happily under the grow lights. Soon they will make their way to the outside garden and then... to my plate. I can hardly wait. I will eat so many tomatoes that I will get fever blisters and be too full for dessert.

    I'll trade a garden fresh organic heirloom tomato for a hot fudge sundae any day!



    I only have one tomato category, the delicious category. And I'm growing 10 different kinds of "delicious" tomatoes.

    I'm looking forward to your upcoming heirloom post. I prefer hybrid because they usually produce more but you can't beat the taste of an heirloom.


    And people are giving me a hard time about planting 10 varieties!

    It's true, though, you need variety, and of course you need to experiment - that's what home growing is all about.


    I'm totally excited to be growing 8 different kinds this year. 'Brandywine' rocks! I'm growing 'Cherokee Purple' this year for the first time, which is an heirloom that's supposed to give 'Brandywine' a run for its money in the taste department. We will see :-)


    I am fairly new to growing tomatoes, 2007 being my third year. I want to thank you for taking the time to explain varieties and types, all this is new to me.

    My 2007 list was as follows:

    1. Beefsteaks
    2. PrimeTime
    3. Plum
    4. Big Boys

    If you have any recommendations as a replacement of this i will appreciated. My favorities of this are the Beefsteaks, and Plum for cooking. I am open for improvement. I dont have much space in my garden, 10 plants the most. Thanks in advance.

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