San Joaquin UCCE Master Gardeners - A garden blog promoting sustainable gardening practices
- Author: Lee Miller
Published on: July 22, 2015
Tomato picking season is here and I love to grow lots of them, although I have cut back from 100plants to only 78. Unfortunately, where I live, thrips, any of an order of very small, destructive, usually small insects, carry a virus causing Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus and I lose several plants each year to this nasty disease. Having lots of plants is insurance that I will eat some tomatoes. There are a few resistant varieties to this disease, but they don't taste great.
A friend of mine liked to visit bars in Hawaii in search of the perfect Mai Tai. I have a similar quest searching for the best tasting, perfect tomato. Of course the search is nearly endless as named tomatoes are almost as numerous as named roses. Wikipedia says there are 7,500 varieties of tomato and the Seed Saver's Exchange Yearbook lists over 5,000 varieties. I grow a few new ones each year and it adds some excitement to the gardening experience to try new varieties. I also grow favorites every year that are good producers and good tasting.
Everyone seems to like Sun Gold, a yellow cherry tomato that is very sweet. It has been the top pick at our Master Gardener Tomato tasting for the past two or three years. The human sweet tooth is at work and cherry tomatoes, like Sun Gold and Sun Sugar are, well, sugary. When it comes to sweet tomatoes, Early Girl, a hybrid, is also high on my list and I think if I had only one tomato to grow this would be the one. It is an early bearer and keeps on producing all season, and the tomatoes are sweet and delicious. I once made tomato juice using only Early Girl and it was the sweetest, best tomato juice I ever tasted.
I am amazed how the tomato went from the New World after 1492 to Europe, Asia and then came back again with so many varieties. It is truly an international fruit. There are many with good taste and I am always willing to try those that score high in tomato tastings. The Cherokee Purple is noted for taste as is Brandywine, both winning many tomato tastings, but not noted for great yields.
For good productions and good tastes, the heirlooms Ace 55, Druzba, Crème Brule, Italian Heirloom, Soldacki, Paul Robeson, Thessaloniki, Bulgarian No. 7, Mortgage Lifter and Henderson's Winsell all fill the bill. For beautiful colorful tomatoes on the platter, I like bicolors such as Big Rainbow, Marizol Gold, Hillbilly, Gold Medal and Pineapple. Then there are the pure yellow and orange tomatoes: Persimmon, Golden Queen and Golden Jubilee and orange slicers, Amana Orange and Kellogg's Breakfast.
Tomatoes that don't perform well or taste good go off my list and don't get replanted. This year, I am giving Mamie Brown's Pink, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, Dester, Verlon, Blue Berries, Trophy and Jaune Flamme a chance to make my favorites list. Because I have a greenhouse, heat mats and light stand, starting tomatoes is easier for me than for gardeners with only a warm windowsill. Hence, I started growing tomatoes and peppers for the Linden Garden Club's Annual Plant Sale about five or six years ago and it has been interesting to introduce new varieties to our clientele each year.
What to do with all those tomatoes? I take samples to our August Master Gardener's meeting for anannual tomato tasting. It is often disappointing, because I fail to cut back on the water as tomatoes ripen which enhances their flavor and sweetness. A more practical use is to can whole tomatoes or process them for sauce or tomato juice.
Tomatoes were once erroneously considered poisonous, but now are a health food. Tomatoes contain lycopene which gives them the red color. It is a powerful anti-oxidant that improves cell membranes and fends off free-radicals that can cause cancers. Tomatoes are a source of vitamins A and C and folic acid. Tomatoes contain a wide array of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants in addition to lycopene, including alpha-lipoic acid, choline, beta-carotene and lutein. For information on health benefits see: medicalnewstoday.com/articles/273031.php. Of course yellow tomatoes don't have lycopene, but have more of other nutrients, so take your pick of what is important; see: prevention.com/content/which-healthier-red-tomatoes-vs-yellow-tomatoes.
The tomato is really a fruit, but it is considered the most popularly grown vegetable in the United States, so if you are limited in garden space, take out some lawn and try a few tomatoes next year. Give them full sun, deep watering once or twice a week and enjoy for taste, health and the satisfaction of growing your own.
— If you have a gardening related question, you can contact the University of California Master Gardeners at (209) 953-6112. More information can be found at sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/