U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8a. Sunset climate zone 5

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Don't Throw Tomatoes At Me

It's a hot topic. Whatever you prefer in tomato varieties, know that I am not a pro-heirloom or pro-hybrid gardener. I just tell you what I read and what I do in my garden.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal was about tomatoes: heirlooms versus hybrids. I am not going to stir up the old discussion on this subject. There are pros and cons about either type. I, personally, plant them both. I just want to pick some facts from the article which can be useful for amatuer gardeners such as myself.


The following are the varieties of tomatoes which have been identified as being resistant to late blight by research at the department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University:
Excellent resistance:
Black Plum
Matt's Wild Cherry
Mountain Magic (hybrid)
Plum Regal (hybrid)
Yellow Currant
Yellow Pear
Good resistance:
Aunt Cinny's Purple
Big Rainbow
Red Currant
Tigerella (Mr. Stripey)
Moderate resistance:
Aunt Ruby's German Green
Black Krim
Plum Cluster
Pruden's Purple
Red Pearl
Slava (glory)

Seeds of hybrids mentioned above will be available in 2011.


Black Krim, Russian Heirloom

There were some other hybrids mentioned in the article:

Tye-Dye - a red-and-yellow marbled tomato that W. Atlee Burpee & Co. (Warminster, Pennsylvania) describes as "delivering all the heirloom flavor of Big Rainbow, Pineapple and Georgia Streak, with bigger yields, consistent form and better disease resistance";

Country Taste'- a ribbed tomato promoted by Park Seed Co. (Greenwood, South Carolina) as having "the meaty, flavorful, tangy bite of yesteryear's tomatoes without the poor disease resistance and small yields that plague so many heirlooms";

Golden San Marzano- a yellow version of San Marzano, classic heirloom plum tomato, offered by Territorial Seed Co. (Cottage Grove, Oregon);

Brandymaster, yellow and red versions, - that has a Brandywine flavor, but more uniformly shaped fruit and better resistance to diseases.

Patty' s Yellow Striped Beefsteak - looks like the heirloom Big Rainbow, but with more intense flavor, uniform shape and bigger yields (Seeds by Design, Maxwell, California).
Ann M. Chaker, the author of the article, stresses the basics on growing tomatoes:
- starting seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last expected frost day;
- gradual "hardening"of seedlings by bringing them outdoors for a few hours a day;
- transplanting into the ground in spring once soil has warmed;
- spacing them a few feet apart and watering down into the roots, avoiding leaves.


The article includes some suggestions for heirlooms' lovers from Ms. Goldman, author of "The Heirloom Tomato: From Garden To Table":
Choosing particularly hardy varieties and planting them in succession:
For very early maturity, either Ceylon (a ribbed red variety) or Black Cherry ( a maroon cherry tomato).
They might be followed by either Flamme (a tangerine-colored globe tomato); Yellow Peach (a peach-textured yellow) or Red Rose (a pink globe).
For late season, Gold Medal (a bicolor beefsteak), followed by Opalka (a blood-red paste tomato. Ms. Goldman also underscores the importance of spacing tomatoes far enough apart (five feet in her garden), infrequent but deep watering (at least an inch a week), aiming water directly at the roots, not on the leaves, providing tomato plants with at least eight hours of sun a day.
This advice goes along with my own experience of growing tomatoes. In my garden, they grow on the Terrace Garden which gets full-day sun. The sprinkler system is turned off for good there. I remember to never wet the leaves while watering. I also control the suckers and try not to plant tomatoes in the same spots for several years in a row. The last rule is not easy to follow when the space is limited. If I can't find a new spot for them, I try at least to move them where the "in-between-tomato plants" space was the previous year and improve the soil using a well-composted manure or any type of compost. In 2005, I added too much horse/chicken manure mix. Too much nitrogen! As a result, I had a "tropical forest" with bushy, tall, healthy plants and few fruit.

This year, I hope to get some heirloom tomato plants from the seeds I got from the Blotanical seed exchange. An aquaintance kindly agreed to start the seeds for me in her greenhouse. They are: Ukranian Heart, Turk's Mutts, Big German Pink, Gajo de Melon (bicolor cherry).
Credit: "You Say Tomato. They say Phony". By Anne Marie Chaker. WSJ. April 21, 2010.

Copyright 2010 TatyanaS


  1. Tatyana, great review on the various tomatoes, and I agree that the Black Krim is by far our favorite tomato!!! It reminds me of the old beefsteak my grandmother used to raise when we were growing up on the east coast with regard to flavor. I have never been able to match the taste of her tomatoes until we planted the Black Kim several years ago.

    The seeds I started this year are all heirlooms (Pineapple, Old German, Ashleigh, Nile River Egyptian and of course Black Krim.) The Pineapple is also delicious; however the Old German, Ashleigh and Nile River are all new to me this year, so I'll have to tell you about them after a taste test.

    As for taste and not an heirloom, but we wouldn't be without it, is "Sun Gold"... sweetest little salad tomatoes around. ;)

    I wish we lived closer so I could offer you a few plants... nearly all the seeds germinated. ;) Have a great weekend.

  2. It is my belief that tomatoes will taste differently grown in different soils. The same varieties tasted different from my mother's garden based on red north Georgia (USA) clay heavily amended with cow manure, my old garden farther south based on red clay amended with composted pine shavings to my present garden based on sandy loam amended with gin trash.

    There is a huge field about 35 miles north of here that is the darkest red clay I've ever seen. I long to go there and ask the farmer if I could buy a bushel of soil to trial some tomatoes. To my mind, they would taste better than any.

    I can understand your visitors finding the taste of home lacking here.

  3. Tomatoes are probably my most favorite food. We're growing lots of varieties new to us this year, a bit of a gamble, but also a few old 'reliable' favorites. We don't grow Black Krim, but do grow Black Pear. I love the subtle smoky flavor of the Black tomatoes with fresh fish. Yum! We're growing all heirlooms this year, except for one hybrid (Sungold), more as an experiment really. We'll have to see how they all turn out!

  4. I started that package of Turk's Mutt I received in the seed exchange. The plants are beautiful and mine already have big fat blooms.

  5. As a beginner to vegetable gardening, I appreciate all of the posts like yours that give so much information about veggies. I didn't know there were so many varieties of tomatoes. I do love to eat them and look forward to having my own this year. Carla

  6. I'm trying Black Krim this year, I hope they look as good as yours! I've started growing tomatoes in containers now, that's how my grandfather always grew his, then the soil is fresh each year. I'm not very good about removing suckers though :(
    Really I never even paid that much attention to whether or not I was growing heirloom or hybrids until last year. I just grow the ones that do well for me, and each year I like to try one that's totally new to me, this year it's Tigerella.
    Sounds like you'll have a great variety.

  7. Hi Tatyana - as far as I know, tomatoes grow best in the sma eplace for years - you don't need to rotate them while rotating other crops. The only reason to move your tomatoes to different spot is when any disease appears - this means you can't grow them next year in the same place. Otherwise, tomatoes love their own smell and love to grow in the same place.
    thanks for such extensive information about both heirloom and hybrids :)

  8. I like to try new varieties of tomatoes each year. This year I have a mixture of hybrids and heirlooms. Whatever, you can't buy a tomato with the same taste as home grown in a shop.

  9. I am trying Sun Gold in a container...not sure if the spouse will remember to water while I am away~~But, it's the best tasting cherry type I've ever tasted!

    30+ years ago, I remember reading a phamplet titled: "What took the taste from tomatoes?" (or something similar)...It was all about tomatoes that were created to travel well in the backs of trucks to markets thousands of miles away! The authors were really discussing the consequences of agri-business on our food...This is not the forum for that discussion, but...maybe they have gotten better at hybridizing a good tasting travel well tomato!! For me it's about taste and that's what I look for at the farmers markets.


  10. I just repotted my tomato plants(3 inch tall) in a cut up water bottle. I'm very worried that its not going to survive!! AHhhh

  11. Lot's of information.
    I succeed best with the little cherry tomatoes. I think it was sun gold (like above reader) that was so fantastic last year. Gave a lot of fruit and early. But I also enjoy trying just a few other tomatoes that sounds interesting.

  12. Thanks for all this helpful information, Tatyana! I usually buy tomato plants at local garden centers, so I usually plant the hybrids. But I have successfully started some seeds indoors this year, so I'm anxious to see how they will do. Last year we had a bad case of late blight in this area, so I'm hoping the garden centers stock more of the disease resistant varieties you mention.

  13. The variety of tomatoes out there sends my head spinning. I opted for a heat-resistant hybrid this year, so I hope to have better luck than last year. It was so hot last summer that the plants scarcely produced fruit past mid-June.

  14. Thanks for sharing this information! Even though I'm not growing any of the tomatoes mentioned, I'm growing a lot of the same tomatoes as those who commented. This is our first year starting from seed so we're pretty excited. I didn't realize how many options were out there until we flipped through the seed catalogs!

  15. Great post. We're trying some new tomatoes this year. We'll see how they go (grow).


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