Tuesday, April 22, 2008


By Kristin Lemmerman

Want tomatoes in your summer vegetable garden? Who doesn't! Tomatoes are one of the most popular garden veggies. And over the years, their popularity has spurred the development of a diverse range of tomato types. Before getting overwhelmed by the vast selection in seed catalogs or at the garden center, check our guide to tomato types. We've arranged them by size, with the smallest first.

Cherry tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes get their name from their size: At about 1 inch in diameter, they measure roughly the same size as cherries. These are a good bet for both traditional garden sites and for container gardening. Red, yellow and orange varieties are all available. Though the fruits are small, the plants tend to produce far longer than larger varieties, often pumping out teeny tomatoes without human intervention even after fall's first frost.
Among the best uses for these juicy tidbits: Leafy green salads, pasta salads, on a crudite plate, or as an afternoon snack. I've also heard of gardeners who take a bowl of mayonnaise with them to the garden so they can pick, dip and eat them, straight off the vine.

Paste tomatoes
This cooking classic is typically a longer, blockier tomato than its relatively round kin. It's also less juicy, which can be a disadvantage for eating fresh. But that drier flesh makes it ideal for cooking down into sauce, since there's less liquid to cook away.
Many, though not all, paste tomatoes are determinate types. You may want to consider staggering your paste-tomato plantings, so you can more easily harvest them all summer long. Interested in trying this type? Check out 'Roma,' a disease-resistant, open-pollinated tomato that's considered one of the classic paste varieties.

"Midsize are the most flavorful, type is the most popular. Midsize varieties like 'Better Boy' and 'Better Bush' as top picks. Midsize tomatoes range anywhere from 6 to 12 ounces and are available in the largest range of colors: red, purple, yellow, orange, green with stripes and even white. Juicier than paste tomatoes, they're popular sliced into salads, on sandwiches, and just about anywhere else you might want some tomato flavor. You can cook them down into sauces, although it'll take more tomatoes and
more time than if you used the less-juicy paste types. And you can preserve them -- think tomato salsa, tomato ketchup, pickled green tomatoes.
Which midsizer to grow depends on your needs. If you just want something that will perform well, find out what your local nursery stocks. Regional soil and climate differences mean that you'll see an entirely different selection in Florida than in Maine. Variations to look for include earlier maturing time, especially in cold climates, and different disease resistances. More interested in heritage than hardiness? 'Brandywine' and 'Abraham Lincoln' are two popular heirlooms. And for the best-tasting varieties, ask your county extension service agents what they recommend.

Beefsteaks aren't necessarily the most beautiful tomatoes you'll ever see. In pursuit of a fruit that weighs anywhere from 1 to 4 pounds, hybridizers largely gave up on the smooth, unblemished, perfectly round tomato that supermarkets stock. They take a long time to grow -- 80 days or so for the first harvest. If you're not in an area with warm summer days and nights, forget about it. And even in areas where beefsteaks grow well, the outcome can be iffy. "If your conditions are just right, warm days and nights with just the right amount of rain, they'll have a great flavor, but I think when they get too big they are less tasty. But proponents say that in the right conditions, the flavor trade off is worth every cat-faced wart on a beefsteak. For a tomato sandwich, one vegetable yields enough slices to truly cover four slices of bread. They're so tasty, they don't even need salt to be at their best. And if you have more than you can eat fresh, chop up the extras and make them into a quick-cook pasta sauce with garlic and a little garden-grown basil.
Popular beefsteak-type heirlooms include 'Mortgage Lifter.' Among hybrids, 'Beefmaster Hybrid' is widely grown. This 1-pounder is resistant to common tomato diseases verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and root knot nematodes. And for your entry to the county fair, try 'Delicious,' which has been known to produce 7-pound, 12-ounce fruits.

Tomato terms

Indeterminate: Tomato plant grows throughout the summer, forming a vine that requires cages and/or stakes for support. Plants bear fruit throughout the summer, though less at any one time than determinate types.

Determinate: Also known as "bush type." Tomato plant grows to a certain height and then stops. Plants need less support, but only bear fruit for about a month.

Semi determinate: Tomato plant grows larger than bush types, but smaller than true indeterminate s. Plants require staking.

Heirloom: An open-pollinated variety that was introduced at least 50 years ago. Seeds of heirloom plants produce new plants with the same traits as the parent.
Hybrid: The offspring of two different varieties of plants, generally having desirable traits from both of the original varieties. Replanting seeds from a hybrid fruit will generally yield a plant inferior to the original.

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