Yup, it’s time to be thinking tomatoes. Way too early to plant outdoors, but just right for mulling over what types to select. What could be better than looking forward to those mouth-watering homegrown beauties fresh-picked right in our own backyard.
Most thought-provoking is which variety to buy, with so many interesting and varied types — everything from humongous slicers, pop-in-your-mouth cherry types, practical and tasty medium-sized ones, less juicy pastes for cooking. If that isn’t enough, there are early producers, mid-season and late ones.
Last August at Master Gardener’s tomato tasting event, some 150 folks attended, anxious to identify their favorites from the many varieties provided.
I’ll share the highest rated varieties, which may offer you some ideas of new ones to try.
What surprised many of us was that cute little cherry tomatoes took the three highest tomato tasting votes. Super Sweet 100s ranked No. 1, followed by Sun Gold and then Nugget.
Next was heirloom Black Krim, followed by Brandywine, Big Rainbow and Red Cherry Zebra.
They were followed by a mix of heirlooms, hybrids and cherry types: Lemon Boy, Green Zebra, Super Fantastic, Champion, Early Girl, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Mortgage Lifter and Cherokee Green.
So the moral of the story is, unless you’re entrenched with your own personal favorites, try a few of these varieties and decide for yourself.
In our experience and talking with others, the conclusion seems to be heirlooms are tasty, but in general take longer to produce, provide less total fruit per plant, and are often odd-shaped (which might be either a positive or negative depending on your personal preference). They also provide plenty of variety in color — streaks of black or green, yellow and other interesting colors if you want a change from the typical stereotype tomato.
Cherry tomatoes are so much fun to just pick and eat right off the vine, and are perfect added to salads and as garnish. But they aren’t suited for slicing in sandwiches and such.
I’ve been pleased with Early Girl’s aptitude for ripening first, as well as its small to medium size. Super Fantastic is a heavy producer and very tasty. Another tomato that didn’t get in the taste tests but performs well is the slightly pinkish Momotaro. This year, we want to try Big Rainbow, as we enjoyed its flavor. And of course, we always have one or two cherry types. Hmm, tomatoes could quickly take the lion’s share of our raised beds the way we’re going!
Tomatoes are one of the most sought-after plants at the annual Master Gardener plant sale, and this year’s sale on April 27 will have lots of these top-rated varieties.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Mary Fran McClure is one of three columnists featured.