The tastiest tomato to plant this spring.

Tomatoes come in lots of sizes and colors as there are 7500 cultivars.

It is time to think about getting vegetables planted for delicious summer meals and for next winter too, if you have enough to freeze or can. Many homeowners are reduced to small back yards so having a large garden may not be possible, but room for a few tomatoes, peppers, zucchini or eggplants are often doable—provided there is 6-8 hours of sunshine. According to a national poll, 26 percent of all US households have a vegetable garden with the tomato the most popular crop. Bell peppers rank a distant second.
Amazingly there are 7500 varieties of tomatoes. There are red ones, yellow ones, green ones, black ones; little cherries and large two pound slicers and everything in between. There are so many seeds and so little time to explore this great variety of tomatoes. Here is a bit of garden trivia. The tomato was classified by our Supreme Court as a vegetable in 1893 even though botanically it is a fruit. Tennessee, Arkansas and Ohio have all rebelled and have declared the tomato there state fruit.
I used to have a large garden area which permitted me to experiment a lot with a variety of heirloom tomatoes and peppers to see which ones would do well and were tasty. I would save seeds from the heirlooms I liked for future plantings, and although I now have less room, I still like to grow a variety of vegetables. This year I am planting 18 varieties of tomatoes and perhaps 12 varieties of peppers and 4 eggplants.
I have grown plants for our Linden Garden Club plant sale for several years (this year’s sale was canceled due to the coronavirus). One of the most popular tomatoes each year is ‘Sungold’ a hybrid cherry tomato that is the tomato candy of the garden. Some customers only want red tomatoes and some are more adventurous and willing to try something yellow with names like ‘Azoychka’ or ‘Golden Jubilee’ or one that is bicolor, yellow and red, like ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’. These are heirloom tomatoes which are open pollenated seeds from plants that are over 50 years old. Heirlooms have become popular with tomato enthusiasts who have become disaffected with standard supermarket faire which is often designed for ease of shipping and long shelf-life.
Tomatoes aficionados look for tomatoes with reputations for good taste and that is one criterion that should be paramount for tomato lovers: see:  https://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/20/garden/the-tomato-singing-its-siren-

Purple Cherokee is an heirloom that wins a lot of tasting contest.

song.html. ‘Cherokee Purple’ is one such tomato that wins a lot of tasting contests and another is ‘Brandywine’. While neither of these plants is high yielding—their good taste is worth the growing.
There are some with reputations for both taste and high yields. Years ago I bought a book by Dr. Carolyn Male ‘100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden’. I searched the book and picked out the tomatoes that were most productive and tasty and grew them as well as some recommended by the Seed Saver’s
Exchange, a non-profit seed bank organization which started in the 1970s when Diane Ott Whealy wanted to preserve her grandfather’s favorite ‘German Pink’ tomato for posterity.
I discovered: ‘Azoychka’, ‘Druzba’,‘Soldacki’, ‘Bulgarian 7’, ‘Thessaloniki’, ‘Italian Heirloom’, ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast’, ‘Redfield Beauty’, ‘Black Krim’, ‘Black from Tula’, ‘Box Car Willey’, ‘Big Rainbow’, ‘Marizol Gold’, ‘Mortgage Lifter’, ‘Gold Medal’ and ‘Paul Robeson’ among others. How I have enjoyed growing and eating these wonderful tomatoes! They may not be as disease resistant as some of the hybrid tomatoes like ‘Ace 55’, ‘Early Girl’, ‘Big Beef’ and ’Celebrity’, but I haven’t had a disease problem with heirlooms.
There is often a story behind some of these tomatoes that add interest. For example, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ was originally named ‘Radiator Shop Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter’. It was developed by ‘Charlie’ Byles of Logan, West Virginia in the 1930s and was so named because Mr. Byles owned a radiator repair shop, and through marketing of his popular tomato, he was able to lift the mortgage on his house in a mere six years.

German Pink heirloom is one that helped launch the Seed Saver’s Exchange.

Druzba is an heirloom from Bulgaria.

The ‘Paul Robeson’ tomato also has a story. Paul Robeson was a black athlete, opera star and actor who got fed up with segregation in the United States and was sympathetic to the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Russian tomato breeders named this tomato to honor him. The ‘Box Car Willie’ tomato was named after a singer with the Grand Ole Opry whose real name was Lecil Travis Martin. His stage name lives on and you can enjoy this heirloom and others. Happy tomato gardening!

Tomatoes are easily put up for winter fare.


If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website: http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/.

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