I prefer to break tomato varieties into various categories according to their uses. The most popular of all types are the huge sweet slicing tomatoes, commonly grown in BC’s Okanogan Valley and in Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula. Old-fashioned field tomatoes, like ‘Beefsteak’ and ‘Stokesdale’, were in a class by themselves with fabulous aroma and flavour. They can still be found, but today there are newer varieties with far more disease tolerance, earlier ripening times, huge easy-to-slice oval shapes and still great flavour. One of the largest is ‘Beefmaster F1’, weighing in anywhere from 340-560g and maturing in 70 to 81 days. It’s also very tolerant of cracking and peeling. A slightly lighter weight beauty, ‘Big Beef F1’ checks in at only 284-340g, but it has almost twice the yield. It’s also very disease resistant. ‘Beefsteak’ is still available but because of its ‘age’, it is now classified as an heirloom variety. Just to benchmark, a ‘Beefsteak’ tomato weighs in between 284-454g. The Ball Corporation has come up with a very flavourful big guy (170-198g), called ‘Old Time Tasty F1’, with an old ‘Beefsteak’ look and outstanding rich juicy flavour.
Believe it or not, the best selling large round tomato is ‘Better Boy F1’. Weighing about 227g, it is flavourful and very disease resistant. The old, well-known Burpee ‘Big Boy F1’ is still a good variety with handsome fruits sizing up to 227-255g.
There’s a new series of modern mid to large tomatoes today that are shorter, more compact and ready in about two months. An All American Selection winner, ‘Celebrity’ (72 days-D) produces large very smooth round 227g tomatoes with great flavour on very compact plants. ‘Bush Champion’ (65 days-D) is another compact variety growing only 60cm but producing plenty of 250-340g wonderfully round tasty fruit. ‘Margo F1’ (70 days-D) is another great flavoured mid sized 170g, very flavourful tomato. It’s great for smaller spaces and is noted for its lasting quality once picked. An oldie, but still a goodie, ‘Super Fantastic’ (70 days-I)is a powerhouse of production with lots of 284g fruits right through until frost. These mid-season and mid to larger sized tomatoes are the mainstay for so many folks with smaller space gardens. Offering superb production, their flavour is excellent and the quality of their fruit is high.
The standard of early tomatoes for years has been ‘Early Girl F1’ (60 days-I). It’s the earliest slicing 113-170g tomato, and I know for many folks, it’s the only tomato they grow.
Cherry tomatoes have become some of the most popular tomatoes today because of their ease of care and their early and long production of bite sized, very sweet fruits. ‘Sweet 100’ has been the most popular variety for years, but a disease tolerant version, ‘Sweet Million’ (60 days-I) allegedly has more delicious small fruits. This taller growing variety produces masses of sweet fruit that are extremely high in vitamin C. This once almost exclusive domain has been taken over by a plethora of newcomers. ‘Sweet Chelsea’ (67 days-I) is larger (28g) and is just as sweet as ‘Sweet Million’. At 28g ‘Sugar Snack’ (63 days-I) is reputed to be the very sweetest, however, suddenly the gold cherry tomatoes have captured the sweet tooth market. ‘Sweet Gold’ (60 days-I) and ‘Sun Sugar’ are low acid golden versions of ‘Sweet Million’ making them high on the culinary ticket because of their delightful colour. Speaking of colour, Burpee’s have come up with a new ‘Indigo’ series of cherry tomatoes in many colours, including black.
A new shape is on the horizon. Grape tomatoes made their debut in grocery stores but have caught on very quickly with gardeners. They are generally more oval in shape and tend to ripen in clusters all at once. ‘Juliet F1’ (60 days-I), an AAS winner producing masses of 28g sized fruits in clusters, has one of the most crack resistant fruits. Very high yielding ‘Sugary’ (60 days-I) has, as the name implies, very sweet fruits.
Container tomatoes have jumped in popularity since 51% of all vegetables are now grown in containers. My all time favourite is still ‘Tumbler F1’ (48 days-D). It’s the shortest cropping variety out there and I would argue their determinate status as I have simply given up trying to keep up with their amazing production. I love their sweet fruits that just keep coming. ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow’ (75 days-D) is also a great container variety and both produce on short (45cm) plants.
Italian, roma and plum are paste tomatoes that are very popular for preparing those amazing sauces that make ordinary pasta come alive and also make great ketchup. ‘Roma Hybrid’ (78 days-D) is the best known and perhaps the most productive. These oblong plum-shaped tomatoes produce in abundance and have good flavour when ripe. ‘Window Box Roma’ (70 days-D) is the best container variety, and ‘Baby Golden Roma’ (74 days-D) is a low acid alternative. ‘Healthkick’ (72 days-D) is a plum tomato with 50% more lycopene than standard varieties. It grows up to 1m tall and has become very popular, especially for those folks looking for nutrition and high antioxidant levels.
Today, tomatoes are the number one garden vegetable in North America, and with so many types and flavours available, I think they’ll stay on top for some time to come. I know lots of tomatoes have already been planted but there’s still plenty of time if you want to try a few more.