If I were ever told that I had to choose only one plant to grow in my garden, I would choose tomatoes. And if there is any plant that I have a weakness for when it comes to new-to-me varieties, it is tomatoes (although peppers are now at a close second place). In the dead of winter when all I can do is sit wrapped in a wool blanket staring endlessly at my snow covered yard in a deep depression (I’m exaggerating a bit), I turn to the seed catalogs and websites and try to find ways of justifying tomato seed purchases. I know I don’t need any more seeds. I have more seeds than I could ever really grow in this space. But still, the excitement of trying a new variety outweighs rationality and I end up buying more seeds.
I remember sitting down at my kitchen table this last winter and laying out all the tomato seed packets. I currently have around 30 varieties, which by some hardcore tomato-loving gardeners is peanuts in comparison to their stashes. But for me, that’s overkill. Is it going to stop me from buying more seeds this next winter? Probably not. Regardless, I sat at my kitchen table in front of the seeds and realized I was going to need to make some hard decisions. Either, I cut back on the amount of non-tomato things that I grow in order to have more tomato growing space or I cut back on the tomatoes. I went with the latter. I decided to pull out all of the determinate varieties. In other words, varieties that are pretty compact, stop growing at a certain point, and that will ripen pretty much all of their fruit around the same time. Determinate tomatoes are excellent candidates for growing in pots because of their size restrictions and the fact that they rarely need staking. I have a lot of pots and they are easy to kind of stick wherever, so I started one plant of each of my determinate varieties. Easy. Same with the tumbling and dwarf varieties – they are even more compact and I’ve gotten away with planting multiples in the same pot or even sticking some tumbling into hanging baskets with other plants. Easy. Then came the indeterminate varieties – those which require staking and often grow very tall and unruly. They can even benefit from multiple prunings throughout the season. Indeterminate tomatoes can be planted in large pots, but in my experience it is easier to plant them in the ground or a raised bed because of how big they can (and will) grow. So when it came to my indeterminate hoard, I had to make some decisions. I based my choices on a few factors: I wanted to plant each of the brand new varieties I’d purchased and I wanted to plant varieties that I grown before and had good success with. If there was something that I’d successfully grown from seed in the past but it hadn’t produced well or that had something-to-be-desired taste results, it did not make the cut. I also wanted to ensure that I was planting one color of each tomato that I had (I am a sucker for colorful tomatoes!). I started 26 tomato plants indoors (some were multiples of the tumbling and dwarf varieties I mentioned above), but I did lose a few plants to squirrels in the early spring. So altogether I ended up with 16 plants (it was a really bad spring for squirrels).
So that brings me to Part I of my tomato posts. The first three tomatoes that I will be featuring are all indeterminate cherry varieties: Pink Bumble Bee, Green Grape and Black Cherry.
Left to right: Pink Bumble Bee, Black Cherry, Green Grape
This was my fourth year growing this variety. I would be surprised if there was a year I did not grow Black Cherry – I have always had good results with this variety and Black Cherry is always a vigorous producer and the first of my indeterminate varieties to ripen. The tomatoes themselves are a darkish red/purple, transforming into a darker shade around the stem. I would describe the taste and texture as almost the perfect cherry. The flavor is a mild sweetness with very little acidity. I don’t think I need to say it, but I will grow this again – still a winner.
Pink Bumble Bee
This is a new-to-me variety this year. I chose this variety because I didn’t have a pink tomato and I also love striped varieties. The plant wasn’t a prolific producer (it wasn’t terrible, just not good), but the plant did remain healthy throughout the whole growing season. The striping is a bit hard to notice unless you really look at it and was most evident in the larger tomatoes – it is more of a reddish/pink with orange striping, although distinguishable from Tigerella, which is a different red/orange striped tomato that I have grown in the past. Although none of the tomatoes had an opportunity to ripen on the vines, they were one of the earlier tomatoes to ripen indoors. The taste was good – sweet but with a slight acidity. The texture was okay – not unpleasant but not nearly as nice as Black Cherry. As far as a pink tomato goes, it wasn’t really very pink so next year I might try another true pink variety. I’m a bit torn if I’ll grow this variety again – it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing.
Another new-to-me variety this year. I have only grown one other green tomato variety and I really love it (Green Zebra – but I recently learned this variety was bred by the same fellow who bred the Green Zebra). The tomatoes ripen to a bright, almost neon yellow color with some bright green shading around the stem and you’ll know they are ready when the fruit has a little give when lightly squeezed. The first year I grew a green tomato variety I was very confused as to ripening time, but now I can usually tell just looking at it. This plant produced about as well as the Pink Bumble Bee but did stay healthy throughout the season. Similar to the Pink Bumble Bee, these did not have an opportunity to ripen on the vines but they did ripen inside quickly. I would describe the taste as mild, not very acidic, and with a simple sweetness. The texture was similar to the pleasant texture of Black Cherry. I really liked this tomato and I will definitely grow it again.
That brings my first tomato post to a wrap. I would love to hear about some of the tomatoes that you grow – whether it was a new variety or one that you’ve grown year after year. Let’s talk tomatoes!
Green Grape and Pink Bumble Bee seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Black Cherry seeds from Urban Harvest (although unavailable at this time, but available from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds here).