“I can find room for one more tomato plant…” Just…one…more…plant.
Do you say that every year too?
My tomato obsession really took off about three years ago when I began starting my own tomato seeds. The varieties you can find when you buy seeds instead of already started plants are just incredible (at least in my neck of the woods). If you’ve only ever gotten tomato plants from a greenhouse, you might be in for a big surprise!
For a long time I was intimidated by starting my own seeds, but now that I have done it I can’t believe I waited so long. Really, anyone can do this. It is worth looking into. I can’t keep a house plant alive for anything, but I can start seeds!
With so many tomato varieties, it is hard to know which ones to choose.
As Chandler would put it- “my wallet’s too small for my fifties, and my diamond shoes are too tight!”
Too many tomato varieties is a really a good problem to have I suppose, but it can be a little overwhelming.
First you have to know what your goals are…
Do you just want fresh tomatoes to eat in the summer?
Will you can them? Make sauce, salsa or diced tomatoes?
Do you want to impress your friends with your tomatoes? I do.
How do stuffed tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes sound to you?
You can have all of these things! Your tomato dreams are about to become reality…
But first! Do you know your Heirloom Tomato Name?! Mine is “Little Schmidt Celebrated Traveler.”
If you are a garden nerd, click here to find out your own Heirloom Tomato Name, courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange!
A few tomato-related things to keep in mind:
Hybrids & F1
Hybrid or F1 plants might be really cool, but you will not be able to save seeds from them to use for future years. Well…you can, but it will likely produce something totally different than its parent tomato.
An heirloom plant is one that has been cultivated for years and will keep their traits from generation to generation. These are the seeds that you can save yourself and plant year after year.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
I saw this label for many years before finally looking it up. Determinate tomato plants, often called “bush” varieties will grow to a certain height and then set their fruit all at once, with most ripening in a 1-2 week period. Indeterminate plants will keep growing, setting and ripening fruit throughout the whole season until killed by frost.
Plant “early” varieties to get fresh tomatoes a couple weeks earlier than everyone else. I often see these as hybrids, but there are also heirloom varieties that ripen at 50-60 days instead of 70+. Try Stupice, or check out this collection from Gary Ibsen’s Tomato Fest!
Cherry & Grape Tomatoes
The least temperamental and perhaps the most fun. I love these because even in a “bad tomato year” they still come through for me. If the rest of my tomatoes are cracking and molding on the vine, I can always count on the cherries.
What to do With Cherry & Grape Tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes are my favorite for adding to big garden lettuce salads, which we eat all summer long.
Halve a few pounds of cherry tomatoes and mix with chopped shallots, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar to make an incredible bruschetta topping.
Skewer and grill them!
Slow roast them in the oven with olive oil and garlic, until their flavors are concentrated. Use as a topping for, well…anything, or freeze them in this state for later. Love these on chicken or in vegetable salads, like fresh broccoli and roasted tomato salad.
When we start to build up an excess and have more than we can eat, I will fill up quart freezer bags full and stash them in the freezer. No preparation of any kind, just put them in the freezer raw and whole. I later use them in soups, crockpot dishes, omelets, sautéed with garlic and put on top of chicken, or sautéed with green beans and bacon.
My Cherry & Grape Tomato Picks:
I grew these for the first time last year and they will definitely be coming back! A really gorgeous tomato, flavorful and sweet. They have shades of brown, green and red all at the same time.
I liked these last year; they are tiny but incredibly prolific, and are the most beautiful springtime yellow color. I especially loved them for salads. Maybe not the most practical tomato because the overall volume isn’t as much as other, larger varieties, but these are fun.
These fall under the category of “impress the heck out of your friends!” They were developed by Wild Boar Farms, whose passion is “breeding new extreme, exotic tomato varieties.” I just love what they are doing and I can’t wait to try these this year! Check out all their unique varieties and buy seeds here. (photo courtesy of Wild Boar Farms)
Pink Bumble Bee
Described as “fire-engine red with golden striping, these tomatoes are crack-resistant and weather tolerant.” They look stunning and I decided I just have to try them this year. I’m a sucker for a unique looking tomato. (photo courtesy of rareseeds.com)
Others to try…
Chadwich Cherry: delicious sweet flavor, huge yields, disease resistant.
Blondkopfchen: small golden yellow fruits in large clusters, sweet excellent flavor.
Organic Matt’s Wild Tomato: deep red cherry, smaller than average, thinner skin.
Roma & Paste Tomatoes
These are our work-horse tomatoes. We make a lot of chili with diced tomatoes, crockpot recipes with homemade salsa as the base, and simple Italian sausage dinners doused in homemade marinara. Paste tomatoes are definitely the most important tomatoes we grow in terms of food storage.
What to do With Paste & Roma Style Tomatoes
Most of your canning needs, of course!
This is also my preferred variety for making sun-dried, oven-dried, or dehydrated tomatoes. They have the fewest seeds and are relatively dry inside, and make nice, meaty dried tomatoes.
When making fresh salsa (pico de gallo) during the summertime, I like to use a base of this variety plus an additional different colored “eating variety” for added flavor and color. I like that this variety doesn’t make my salsa too runny.
Aaand, this category usually includes many of the “pleated” varieties, which are my absolute favorite for stuffing, as in, making stuffed tomatoes. See the “Gehzahnte” below.
My top Paste & Roma Tomato Picks:
This will be my first time attempting this variety. I have very high hopes for my marinara this year! The classic Italian tomato. (photo courtesy of rareseeds.com)
I liked the shape of this tomato and the description of “high yields of richly flavorful plum shaped tomatoes.” (photo courtesy of rareseeds.com)
This is the stuffing variety I was talking about (there are other pleated varieties available too). The seeds and ribs are all in the center, and easy to remove, leaving the perfect cavity for filling with whatever you choose. (photo courtesy of rareseeds.com)
Others to try…
Amish Paste: shape varies from round to oxheart, bright red, meaty and juicy.
Organic Gilbertie Paste: long, slender 7″ fruits with very solid flesh.
Large Eating Tomatoes
These varieties can have have just a few large seed cavities, or be spotted with lots of seed cavities. They come in all different shapes and size- from barely bigger than a cherry tomato, two a two pound mammoth! They are often more round in shape than say, a Roma variety.
What to do With Large Eating Tomatoes
These are dual purpose for me. Of course we eat them fresh on just about anything- tomato and basil salad with salt and lots of fresh cracked black pepper, on lettuce salads, fresh salsa, on top of grilled chicken breast and hamburgers.
I also use these for canning, specifically for diced tomatoes. They have such great flavor that I can’t resist. Being juicier than the paste varieties, they produce canned diced tomatoes that have a little more liquid in them, which I actually like, especially for chili.
These are a great “sandwich” tomato, giving the best thick, meaty slices.
My first choice tomato variety for making fresh tomato gazpacho in the hot summer months.
Also my first choice for homemade tomato soup. Try this recipe from The Prairie Homestead!
Being the largest, juiciest tomatoes, this type is perfect for tomato juice, which you can freeze or can as well!
Two words: Bloody Mary.
The different variety of colors and flavors are out of this world, which makes this a great variety for impressing your friends and family!
My Top Large Eating Tomato Picks:
I just love these! The flesh is mostly yellow with streaks of red and when they are cooked down the colors combine to form the most incredible “Golden Diced Tomatoes” as I call them. Also, very large and quite prolific.
German Red Strawberry
Typical 1lb fruits are shaped like gigantic strawberries. A German heirloom with a rich, sweet flavor with a only a small amount of seeds and juice. (photo courtesy of rareseeds.com)
I love the name, first of all. I like to have at least one variety of green tomato around and I think I’ll try this variety this year. The “flavor is rich and superbly sweet.” (photo courtesy of rareseeds.com)
Another product of Wild Boar Farms. This tomato is described as a meaty pink beefsteak with blue top. Another absolute stunner with many desirable traits! (photo courtesy of Wild Boar Farms)
Others to try…
Mortgage Lifter: I like the name! Just a good old-fashioned tomato.
Bradywine: Another classic heirloom tomato; large with a good balance of sugar and flavor!
These are not hard and fast tomato rules at all- in reality you can use any type of tomato for just about any application! I think you will just achieve the best results from pairing the right tomato with the right preparation though.
Above all, have fun! While you should keep in mind your needs, make sure you choose varieties that you are attracted to- the ones that sound fun and make you excited to garden!
Which tomatoes made your garden list this year?
Do you have some old standbys or are you always trying new varieties?
And do you save your own tomato seeds?
Often my posts contain affiliate links, but this one does not. I received no compensation from any of the companies listed above. I just happen to think that they are really awesome companies that sell some pretty cool tomato seeds!
Happy tomato planting!