- Planting Vegetables
10 Excellent Tomato Varieties for the Home Grower
The Humble Tomato
No vegetable in the world is more widely grown today than the Tomato. Who would think this common garden vegetable, in the nightshade family (actually a fruit!) had such a strange history?
Tomatoes originated in South America and were grown for centuries by the native people. Although the leaves are toxic, the fruits are not in most varieties grown then and now. The Spaniards who colonized the Americas brought back the Tomato to Europe. Because of their rumored toxicity, Tomatoes weren't grown as an edible plant until well into the 1600's in Spain, Italy, England and those colonies the Spaniards created on Caribbean islands.
The Tomato immigrated back to North America with the advent of British colonists populating the New England area and areas further south (Virginia, Carolinas). The earliest date known for tomato growing in these areas is around 1710.
Thomas Jefferson was largely responsible for re-introducing the Tomato to the colonists. Having spent time in France where tomatoes were commonly grown and consumed, he brought tomato plants and seeds back with him and grew them in his garden at Monticello.
The Nightshade Family of Plants
There are some edible and some poisonous plants related to the Tomato. This group includes flowering plants, herbs, vegetables and trees.
Some of the most common edibles are:
- Chili Peppers
- Bell Peppers
Beautiful and ornamental, these plants are also toxic, so handle with care:
- Belladonna (aka Deadly Nightshade)
- Brugmansia (both Datura and Brugmansia are also known as Angel's Trumpets)
- Bittersweet Nightshade (very common weed in lawns, fields, roadsides etc.)
Have you successfully grown tomatoes in your garden?
10 Great Varieties of Tomatoes
Yellow Pear: This variety is an heirloom cherry-type that produces lemon yellow, pear shaped fruit. They have lower acidity than red types and are surprisingly very sweet. Great for snacking fresh.
Mr. Stripey: This heirloom variety produces large fruits marbled with red, yellow and orange. A great slicing tomato with a mild tomato flavor.
Black Krim: This heirloom originates from Russia and is a dark red-purple color when ripe. Very hearty tomato flavor. Good for slicing fresh or making sauce.
Brandy Boy: One of Burpee's hybrids taking the best features of brandywine and better boy tomatoes and cross-breeding them to produce an excellent tomato. Perfect for slicing, the Brandy Boy has pink-red flesh and bold taste.
Sun Gold: This hybrid cherry-type tomato is bright orange and sweet when ripe. Perfect for snacking or sautéing.
Tie Dye: This hybrid in similar in color to Mr. Stripey, but a much smaller salad-type tomato.
Costoluto Genovese: This heirloom Italian variety has bright red flesh and deeply ribbed lobes. It is a beautiful slicing tomato and great paste tomato for sauces.
Bloody Butcher: This heirloom variety produces small slicer tomatoes perfect for salads and eating raw.
4th of July: This hybrid tomato is one of the earliest producers, guaranteed to produce it's first ripe fruits by the 4th of July!
Grape: These small cherry-type tomatoes are perfect tossed in salads.
The Difference Between Heirloom and Hybrid Varieties
Heirloom vegetables or seeds refer to any type of seed that has been grown for a number of years (since about 1940 ) and passed down from gardener to gardener. Heirloom plants are "open pollinated," which means the plants are pollinated without human intervention, so by wind or insect pollination. Many prefer heirloom plants because they have a better taste and also just because they are from old varieties.
Hybrid plants are created when breeders cross-pollinate different plants in order to maximize their best features, such as yield, size, resistance to disease, and taste. Seed saved from hybrid plants aren't likely to breed true to the mother plant where the seeds were collected. Instead, the second generation may look something more like one of the parent plants used to create the hybrid.
What does Determinate or Indeterminate Mean?
Determinate varieties of tomatoes, also called "bush" tomatoes, are varieties that are bred to grow to a compact height. Once the plant forms fruit, the stalk will stop growing. You will most likely get one large crop of tomatoes ripen at the same time. Most determinate varieties top out at about 4 feet tall and don't require much staking if at all.
Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although 6 feet is considered the norm. These types will produce all summer long and do require extra support.
How to Grow Tomatoes From Seed
Tomatoes grow well from seed if certain actions are taken:
- Keep seeds evenly moist.
- Provide at least 6 hours of direct sunlight to seedlings.
- Temperatures need to be between 65 and 70 degrees for seeds to sprout.
Since I live in a northern climate, I like to start my tomatoes indoors. About 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost, start seeds in seeding mix in jiffy pots or seed cell kits from your garden center.
- Put seed starting mix into the growing cells and fill to the top. Once you water, some soil will settle.
- Pick out the largest tomato seeds in your packet, planting one in each cell.
- Cover with 1/4 of an inch of soil.
- Water in well.
- If your kit comes with a plastic cover, put the cover on and place in a warm area. I find the best place is on top of the fridge.
- Check your seeds periodically for moisture and water if dry. Your seedling will germinate in about 7 days.
- At this point, place in a sunny window that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
- During the daytime, keep the greenhouse cover off or open to prevent seeds from molding or dampening off.
- Replace the cover at night to keep in the heat/ moisture.
- When daytime temps have reached 50 degrees or above, you can start moving your seedlings outside for the day and then bring them back in at night.
- Seedlings can be permanently planted into your garden after danger of frost (usually around Mother's Day for Northern climates).
Tomato Growing Chart
Indeterminate or Determinate?
Days to Maturity
Cherry type, Heirloom
Beefsteak type, Heirloom
Beefsteak type, Heirloom
Beefsteak type, Hybrid
75 to 78 Days
Cherry type, Hybrid
Slicer type, Hybrid
Beefsteak type, Heirloom
Slicer type, Heirloom
4th of July
Slicer type, Hybrid
Tomatoes and Health
Tomatoes are rich in anti-oxidants and lycopene, which prevent oxidative stress on the body. Lycopene is thought to help treat and prevent prostate cancer. Tomato also helps prevent other cancers such as breast, head and neck cancers.
Common Tomato Pests and Disease
The most common pest is the Tomato Hornworm. Tomato hornworms are known to eat various plants from the tomato family. The caterpillar will clinging to the underside of a branch near the trunk and are difficult to spot due to their green coloration, which matches the color of the tomato leaves almost perfectly. Unless you have an infestation, you can easily pick off the caterpillars by hand and destroy them. They will quickly defoliate a plant if not controlled.
The most common disease is blossom end rot, which causes the fruit to produce a mushy, brown spot on the bottom of the fruit. This is more of a deficiency than a disease that is caused by calcium deficiency. An easy way to prevent this from happening is to take egg shells and place them in the planting hole. Epsom salts sprinkled in is an excellent tomato fertilizer as well.
For more detailed information regarding pests and diseases:
Great Tomato Seed Companies
- Tomato Seeds - Organic Heirloom Tomato Seeds and Heirloom Tomatoes
TomatoFest is the ultimate resource for heirloom tomato seeds and heirloom tomatoes with over 600 organic heirloom tomato seed varieties along with growing information. Also, home of the Carmel TomatoFest heirloom tomato festival.
- Seeds from Italy
Seeds from Italy is a seed catalog company offering vegetable seeds, herb seeds, and flower seeds imported from Italy from the seed company Franchi Sementi.
- Heirloom Seeds | Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co
Heirloom Garden Seeds. Vegetables, Flowers and Herbs! Over 1450 varieties of heirloom seeds, All NON-GMO. Check out our free heirloom seed catalog.
© 2014 Lisa Roppolo