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What’s new in the world of tomatoes

The weather has been a bit crazy this year, and Brian Minter says he can’t believe how many tomato plants have already hit the ground.

The weather has been a bit crazy this year and I can’t believe how many tomato plants have already hit the ground. 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. In the past old-fashioned field tomatoes, like ‘Beefsteak’ and ‘Stokesdale’, were in a class by themselves with fabulous aroma and flavour. Today, however, 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. As a 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’, that has a ‘Beefsteak’ look and outstanding rich juicy flavour. To up the stakes (or steaks) there is now a ‘Porterhouse’ tomato supposedly weighing in up to 1800 grams!

One of the best selling large round tomatoes 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 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. ‘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-size, 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. These taller growing varieties produce 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. 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.

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 per cent 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’ and ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow’ (75 days-D) are also great container varieties and both produce on short (45cm) spill-over 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.

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 as the May long weekend is still a week away.

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