You don’t like tomatoes? If your only experience with them are tomatoes from the grocery store or the wedges you get in your restaurant salad, well then, I’d have to say that I can’t blame you. What passes for a tomato in most places during most of the year is a tasteless fraud with a texture that is either too hard or too mushy. Yeah, I know, there are many new varieties on store shelves these days including stem tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and hydroponics. And while those might serve in a pinch, I still haven’t found one that I really like. They have little in common with a modern day hybrid from your own garden and even less in common with the heirloom varieties that your grandparents grew. Growers can’t help it. They have to get a good looking product to stores and a “real” tomato would never survive the trip. And so, what you see in stores is a selection of varieties that have been bred to withstand travel and transportation time at the expense of taste and texture.
If you are lucky you might be able to find them at the summer farmer’s market but a real garden tomato will tolerate little more travel than the trip from your garden to your kitchen table. But oh, what a difference! Once you have your first BLT made with a fat slice of fresh tomato plucked straight from the garden you will be sold. You won’t believe how very different a home grown tomato is from every store bought one you’ve ever tasted.
And so I encourage you to at least try growing your own tomatoes. Even if you have room for only one plant, choose the sunniest spot in your yard and bury the stem deep—all the way up to the first set of leaves. If you don’t have a plot of ground, plant one in a pot. Make it the biggest pot you can find. Tomato roots need lots of room to grown. You’ll want to add some kind of a stake to keep things neat although tomatoes left to their own nature will sprawl on the ground and produce just fine. Feed it with a good food formulated for tomatoes and give it plenty of water and sunshine.
Different tomato varieties do better under different conditions. I plant a number of different varieties, both modern hybrids and heirlooms, in hopes of outsmarting mother nature. If the summer turns out to be hot and dry or cool and rainy or somewhere in between, I am sure to have at least a couple of varieties that will do well.
For the earliest tomatoes you will want to plant a modern hybrid. Varieties like ‘Early Girl’ and ‘Fourth of July’ will give you the first small red fruits of the season. For large, juicy beefsteak varieties you’ll have to wait a little longer. My favorites are the heirlooms— all of those varieties grown by our grandparents. The down side is that they are usually the last to ripen sometime in August and plants don’t bear as many fruits as hybrid varieties so you need to plant more of them. But wow, are they ever worth the wait and the garden space! The flavor of an heirloom is unbeatable and unforgettable.
My favorite heirloom varieties are ‘Brandywine,’ ‘Rutgers,’ ‘Mortgage Lifter,’ and ‘Rainbow.’ ‘Black Krim’ is the ugliest of the heirlooms, with shades of purple-y black that make it look bruised and battered but it is still quite tasty. The very best cherry tomato that I’ve tried is the ‘Sun Sugar’ a plant that is always loaded with delectable 1″ orange yellow balls that we snack on right in the garden. I’ve grown a tomato called ‘Longkeeper’ which isn’t very good for fresh eating but at the end of the season the fruits, including green ones, can be wrapped in newspaper and stored in the cellar. By doing this they will ripen slowly. One year we were eating them as late as Christmas. I don’t have many favorites in the hybrids category. Growers come up with new varieties every year and I tend to try whatever is new and available. The one that I do seek out is ‘Brandy Boy’ an offspring of my favorite heirloom. Tomatoes are smaller than its parent, ‘Brandywine’ but they are just as tasty and you get more per plant.
I’ve yet to find a local nursery that offers the exact varieties that I want. If you have the same problem don’t hesitate to mail order your plants. They are more expensive that way but you get a better selection and they always arrive in good shape.
If after growing them yourself you find that you still don’t like tomatoes, well, you can at least win some big points with your friends and neighbors when you give them away!