Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Garden Journal 9/23/09:
Tomatoes! Freshly Picked Heirlooms (Mine) and Favorite Varieties to Grow (Mine and Yours)

My Favorite Kind of Tomatoes—Ripe!

Realization of the Day:
2009 is not my Year of the Tomato.

It was supposed to be. In late winter (on time!) I started something like 30 different kinds of heirloom tomato seeds, most of which I'd never grown before, and with fabulous names like Egg Yolk, Mule Team, and Chocolate Vintage.

Things pretty much went downhill after that, though I'm finally harvesting a few various ripe tomatoes—some of which I can even identify. (Why do the plants that I meticulously label and make notes about usually seem to die?) I'm also already planning for next year—and I'm not the only one.

Back on September 3rd (where has this month gone?) a message arrived in my inbox from 'mother.' Since messages from my mother have her name on them, I figured it was spam—like all the ones that say they're from 'me.' But then I looked at the subject line: Help Us with the Top Tomato Varieties Survey. This wasn't spam, it was from Mother Earth News, specifically Cheryl Long, the Editor in Chief herself:

As a tomato grower and a blogger, we hope you will help us spread the word to gardeners who love great tomatoes. Mother Earth News invites you (and others!) to take our new Top Tomato Varieties online survey.

Our goal is to connect with lots of folks who are passionate about homegrown tomatoes, then combine everyone's tomato-growing experience and advice into an article for
Mother Earth News, with emphasis on the best varieties for regional growing conditions.

I guess I'm not the only one who spaced the survey out, because fortunately it's still going on. It only takes about 10 minutes, and you can take it here. The findings will be presented in the February/March 2010 issue of Mother Earth News.

I'm really looking forward to reading the results, especially since regional growing conditions seem to make an especially huge difference with tomatoes—which so many of you confirmed in all the interesting and helpful 2009 tomato comments you left on this recent post (thanks so much!).

Ironically, the same day Cheryl's message arrived, I picked the cherry tomatoes in the photo above, which were volunteers growing in our grey water runoff ditch (where the water that drains out of our kitchen sink, bathroom sink, washing machine, and shower runs off into a ditch outside The Shack). They're sweet and tasty, and the plants don't mind being completely ignored, but they're no help to the survey because I don't have a clue what kind they are.

Below are some of my tried and true favorite heirloom tomato varieties I can name, all of which are not only full of flavor but also do well in our hot and humid summers and generally crazy Missouri climate. Varieties marked PT came from Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine; BC are varieties ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds here in Missouri (which also has a new retail store in Petaluma, California—my old stomping grounds!).

San Marzano (my favorite red plum/paste tomato I've been growing for 14 years - PT)
Orange Banana (a wonderful orange plum/paste tomato - BC)

Gold Nugget (produces lots of 1-inch flavorful fruits that aren't prone to cracking - PT)
Yellow Pear & Red Pear (I love these tiny pear shaped fruits with great yields; the red ones date back to the 1700s - PT)
Yellow Currant & Red Currant (really tiny tomatoes - so cute! - that mature early and taste great - PT)

Tappy's Heritage (large, globe shaped red tomatoes with good disease resistance and great yields - a bestseller at BC)
Arkansas Traveler (beautiful pink tomato from Arkansas, tolerant to heat and humidity, crack and disease resistant - I wrote about them here - BC)
Kellogg's Breakfast (extremely large, sunny orange beefsteak I wrote about here - PT)
Thai Pink Egg (darling pink, 2-ounce, grape shaped tomatoes from Thailand did fabulous for me the first year, died of some strange disease the next while loaded with unripe fruit, but are definitely worth trying again)

So what are your favorite tomato varieties to grow? I hope you'll take a minute to share them here—after you've taken the survey of course!

Previous tomato posts:
Links to all of my tomato recipes (at the bottom of the post)
—7/31/06: Growing Arkansas Traveler Tomatoes & How To Save Your Own Tomato Seeds
—8/9/06: Growing Kellogg's Breakfast Tomatoes and a Colors of Summer Salad with Tomatoes, Zucchini, Sweet Red Pepper, Beet Greens, Basil, & Garbanzos
—9/16/07: Kissing Summer Goodbye with the Easiest Greek Salad Ever
—6/2/08: Planting Tomatoes Later is Better than Never (I Think)
—9/4/08: How To Freeze Tomatoes the Really Easy Way (and Why I Don't Do Much Canning Anymore) (lots of great comments from other gardeners here)
—10/12/08: Growing Tomatoes: How Many Plants Do You Need and What To Do If You End Up with Too Many Tomatoes—Make Easy & Delicious Homemade Tomato Juice! (lots of great comments here, too)

© Copyright 2009, the small, round, and juicy foodie farm blog where it's nice to have tried and true tomato favorites, but it's even nicer knowing that despite all the past years of experimenting, there are still hundreds of varieties of heirloom tomatoes just waiting to be grown in my garden.


  1. I love "tigerella" tomatoes--they're tasty, they have a cool stripey look, and they're the perfect size for toasted tomato sandwiches! I've grown them for a couple of years, and it's one of my earliest and always my most productive (which, with the short growing season and crazy weather we've been having in Canada lately, is a must).

    I have a quick question: Does anyone know when to pick lemon cucumbers? This is my first year growing them, and I'm excited to try them!

  2. We picked up a single Yellow Pear plant at the farmers market this spring and those have been the best tomatoes ever! We didn't get much from our other plants- the horn worms made out though!- but those little yellow beauties were abundant. We will be trying more of them next year. Maybe we'll even manage to get some into the house instead of eating them all on the 1/10 mile walk back to the house :)

  3. I'm a Missouri gardener also and I like Mortgage Lifter, Orange Oxheart and Amish paste heirloom tomatoes.

  4. I've been pretty boring over the last couple years and have only grown Better Boys. Because they do it all: fresh, slicing, sandwich, canning, freezing - they're perfect. They grow strong and disease free.

    Next year though, I'm trying a black tomato. Maybe Krims. And Sun Golds. They're so good!

  5. Another Missourian here. I love Sun Gold Select that was offered by Bakers Creek (2002). Unfortunately, they aren't offered any more or anywhere else for that matter. I have 6 seeds left and that will be all that I plant next year so that I can increase seed. Everyone loves them, even my DS who hates tomatoes, period.

    New to me this year but with quite a lovely flavor is Master Caruso from Marianna's.

    DH's favorite variety is Cherokee Purple, but then he loves any "black" tomato.

  6. Great article. Informative, written in entertaining style. Thanks for the info.

  7. I checked you '06 posting on Kellogg's Breakfast tomato and find that I, too, had one huge tomato per plant in the beginning, and the rest were normal size and quite good. Is it the normal thing for this plant to do that, has it continued for your tomatoes?

    To Jess, I like to pick the lemon cukes when they have a little color, and do not wait until they are entirely yellow. You will love those things and they are prolific!

  8. This year? My favorite is anything that didn't die of blight. However, in a normal year, I do love the Stupice--they mature first and have a lovely acidic flavor. I like acidic tomatoes.

    I also grew Black Krims for the first time this year. I was skeptical, figuring the black tomato thing was a fad and they would be all appearance and no flavor, but they truly were some of the best-tasting slicing tomatoes I have ever had. Once I got over the disturbing colors, of course.

    P.S. My verification is "thinest." Ironic, since I was just noticing how my last comfortable pair of normal jeans are now not fitting so well. Definitely not the thinest. Glad I have a good excuse. Besides too many potatoes, of course.

  9. Hi Jess,
    Tigerella sounds great. When I was looking up tomatoes in my Baker Creek catalog for this post, I noticed they have an entire section of striped tomatoes - and realized I've never grown a single one. Thanks for the inspiration - and reminder.

    As for lemon cucumbers, I think they're wonderful and wrote all about them here.

    I like to pick them when they're pale yellow. I've seen a few photos of them taken at farmers' markets and they were orange, but I think by the time they're that dark they're overripe. Some people say to pick them as small as 1½ to 2 inches in diameter. And as Patricia said below, they're very prolific! :)

    Hi Lindsey,
    I can sympathize - I just found a tomato hornworm on one of my cherry tomato plants about an hour ago. I fed it to one of our hens who just hatched out four chicks last week. : )

    I really love the Yellow Pear tomatoes, and always have good luck growing them. Sometimes I'm amazed by how the fruits just seem to be dripping from the plants. They're so pretty when you serve them, too - though I can understand your eating them all out of hand!

    Hi Linda,
    Yay, another Missouri gardener. Thanks for the recommendations. I keep reading about Mortgage Lifter and think I may even have some seeds kicking around, but don't think I've ever actually grown them. I'll have to look up Orange Oxheart, too.

    Geez Finny, you're usually such a unique and interesting trendsetter. Yes, definitely try a black tomato. And the Sun Golds. Get wild. ; )

    Hi All8
    I love that you're singlehandedly going to resurrect Sun Gold Selects! I grew Cherokee Purple years ago and need to try them (and other black and purple varieties) again. I'm not familiar with Master Caruso but will definitely look it up. I'm all for any variety that someone else has successfully grown in Missouri!

    Hi Patricia,
    I don't remember that happening on a regular basis, but it's actually been several years since I've had any Kellogg's Breakfast in the garden (not because I don't love them but because the past few years were disasters on the tomato seed starting front). Also my memory stinks - as do my gardening records. ; )

  10. We had a terrible case of Late Blight that swept through my little corner of Wisconsin. It took out most of the tomato plants in the area and threatened the state's commercial potato crop.

    The only 'maters I had that weren't destroyed by the blight were volunteers just like yours! Only I know what mine were: "Sweet One Million" cherry tomatoes, which are decidedly *not* an heirloom variety. But they're blight resistant (and delicious and prolific), so I love 'em anyway.

  11. Black tomatoes. They are not a fad in my backyard! This is the 5th year for us (only the 8th year we've gardened at all). I like krims, but my favorite, which I haven't been able to find lately (and I failed to save seeds one year so there you go) are Black from Tula. Smoky.

  12. This was my first year with tomaotoes, and I got carried away----planted many plants, and got such a harvest---my favorites were:
    black krim, cherokee purple, green zebra, and jubilee. We put up a lot of them, and can't wait until next year's harvest!

  13. I attempted to grow too many tomatoes and didn't recognize that the neighbor's new woodpiles were blocking my sun. Next year, we're moving the tomatoes; and I won't plant them too close together. I'm not even sure which varieties grew; I think my brandywines are okay.

  14. This is my first time visiting your blog and I shall become a regular visitor :)
    Unfortunately I do not have a garden as we live in a tiny studio, however, I do love plants, gardens, farms and have as many potted plants as my space allows!
    One day I hope to move to a place that has lots of land for me to experiment with a varitety of plants. For the time being I will return often to enjoy your posts :)
    Greetings from very hot Mexico ~

  15. The blight got all the tomatoes in Southwest Virginia, unfortunately. Even my cherries only gave me a couple fruits per plant. I hear northern North Carolina had a bumper crop, though!

  16. Valencia has been one of our favorites this year - smallish very deep orange tomatoes.

    Our other favorites are Cherokee Purple, Pineapple, and Juliet. We absolutely love anything that's yellow and orange.

    Our most unusual tomato, which was decently good, was the White Tomesol. Very weird!

  17. Thanks for this post and your list of favorite heirloom tomatoes. My tomatoes did very poorly this year with our crazy weather and abundant weeds. I am used to getting much more productive harvests than I had this year.

    I will go take that survey now. My favorites to grow here in the California Sierra Foothills are Peacevine Cherry, Roma and Luther Burbank Red Slicing. I am always looking for sweet and juicy yellow slicer though. I haven't found one that really pleases me yet.

  18. I've grown maybe 40 varieties (almost all open pollinated and heirloom) over the past several years. My favorite for both fresh eating and canning is a lovely called Eva Purple Ball (very pink). I'll can anything yummy, but EPB is so easy to peel, doesn't catface, doesn't crack, and tastes fabulous. Another fav is Stupice: it gives fantastic bright tomatoey maters before any other plant even thinks about it. Finally, the hybrid SunGold and the open-poll Black Cherry are delicious and beautiful piled in a bowl together.

  19. oooh! My favorite for flavor and shear abundance are Sungolds. And this year I had great luck with Green Zebra and Cherokee Purple. I love roasted Sungolds and really want to try it in a jam next year.

  20. I love the Yellow Pear and want to try out the red ones; but they do get some crazy vines (they're indeterminate). I grew Red Currant this year too, but was not impressed with their malicious taking over of the garden, nor how the fruits burst when I picked them (the stems seemed very "attached"). My other favourite heirlooms include Black Sea Man, Goldie, Deuzba (large slicers). My earliest heirlooms this year were Stupice (small salad type) and Purple Russians (plum type). I was not overly impressed with Oxheart or Hillbilly - they seemed the most susceptible to the cool temperatures and were often found rotting right on the vine. (I'm in Toronto, Ontario BTW)

  21. Howdy from your old stomping grounds in Petaluma, CA! We grew out 170 varieties this year. We even worked with a farmer that grows totally dry farmed tomatoes! She uses 0% water. You don't get as many tomatoes, but what you get are so flavorful. We are trying to improve on this by developing plants that excel in dry farm situations since water is getting scarce these days. Anyway, my favorites were Lynwood, Coyote and Sibirche.

  22. I'm so late to commenting on this post, but I couldn't not reply when you asked for our favorite heirloom tomato varieties. I was gardening just west of you in eastern KS last year and my most prolific and tasty producer was the Green Zebra. These tomatoes even survived a bit of light frost. I picked my last tomatoes in the beginning of November, if you can believe it! I did get the seeds from BC, and I can't imagine having a garden in the future without a couple of these hardy, fun tomato plants included.

  23. I started off this year the same way you did: planning a bountiful heirloom tomato feast. My original intent was to sell my harvest at the organic farmers market in Tower Grove Park. I ordered 25 different types of open pollenated heirloom seeds from and started them in my living room in peat pots. By the time they were ready to move outside, I was full swing in soccer season coaching at my high school (I had no idea I would be doing this). I had tons of tomato plants and nowhere to put them. I built a raised bed out of cardboard boxes and filled it with dirt and put one tomato per square foot. I tried planting some in plastic bags. My regular garden was capable of holding 25 plants, and I squeezed in another 15 in a community garden at my friends apartment in downtown St. Louis. My plants grew like crazy! They produced like crazy too! I ended up giving up harvesting because I was working 60 hours a week at school and my freezer was full of stewed tomatoes, salsa, and spaghetti sauce. I don't know how far you are from St. Louis, but my piece of earth has a special magical way with tomatoes. I find them growing in the middle of my backyard, in the landscape pebbles by my back door, and between the fence and the driveway. Have you thought of doing an exchange? I would love to trade tomatoes with some other Missourians in exchange for things that don't grow so well for me.

  24. The tomatoes pictured made me think of my dad..a potato farm, dry bean grower who loved tomatoes. One type, beef steak I think was the variety was so earthy, so full of flavor.

  25. How do you have such nice fingernails living on a farm? Mind boggling.

  26. I grow my garden on a 1/4 acre lot in the foothills of NC...

    My favorites by far are the Granny Cantrell (offered by BC for the first time this year; also offered by my fav seed company, the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in VA) and the Blondkopfchen (which I got from the SSE).

    Cantrells are med/large & pink/red tomatoes--the best I've ever eaten (and I grew up eating fresh ones). My father, who tends to say things like "a tomato is a tomato, doesn't really matter the variety" says he can tell a difference in taste, and has gone to growing them exclusively.

    Blondys are yellow grape tomatoes which take a little longer to get a good yield (here, they hit mid-August or so, whereas most others are mid-July), but when they hit, you're going to end up with about a million little yellow tomatoes. Seriously, from one plant that I only took marginally good care of, I ended up with close to 1,000 little yellow tomatoes. Needless to say, you only need one of these plants.

    Happy planting!

  27. Mark Van AukenJuly 22, 2012 5:36 PM

    Brandywine-Hot and dry, cool and wet, they always come through.

  28. Planted Kellog's, Rose Chianti and Rose de Berne. They all grew well, and the Rose Chianti reddened up first. Rose de Berne seems to have the largest tomatoes, but - ooops! I don't know which ones are most flavorful because I mixed them all together on the counter, and even mixed up the green ones on my window table! But they are all good, here in Michigan. Thanks for confirming (via your other posting) that the easiest way to redden green tomatoes is simply to leave them on the counter or table. I put mine on the table, near the south-facing window and they are doing just fine. Helps to leave as much of the vine on as possible, of course.


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. While I'm not always able to reply to every comment, I receive and enjoy reading them all.

Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I especially love to hear about what's going on in your own garden. I know, too, that other readers also delight in reading about your garden successes, failures, helpful tips, and lessons learned. Feel free to leave comments on older posts!

I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy your visits to my kitchen garden!