It’s not unusual this time of year to see a CERES Nursery horticulturalist gesticulating wildly in the tomato section, trying to convey a sense of JUST HOW BIG a particular variety will grow, while a queue of customers look on wide-eyed and captivated! We thought we’d make it easy for you and post some advice for tomato growing in stages. Over the spring and summer we’ll release posts timed with where you might be up to with your tomato plants, from sowing to staking to pruning to harvesting. To kick it all off here is some info about tomato varieties and what you should consider when choosing which ones to grow.
Choosing the right tomato for you! Whether you are starting from seed or choosing seedlings the range of different tomato plants can be a little overwhelming. I like to try at least one new variety every year, as well as growing some tried-and-true faves. It’s great to get a range of colours and sizes of fruit if you can, that way you can dazzle your friends with your heirloom tomato bruschettas all summer. Have a think about what you will use your tomatoes for before choosing them. Do you make a lot of salads or are you looking to sauce and bottle? Maybe you have some foraging children that would enjoy eating sweet little cherry tomatoes straight from the plant, still warm from the sun.
If you haven’t got a lot of space, try a determinate variety like Roma or Tatura Dwarf. These produce small bushes that need minimal staking and have ‘determinate’ growth, meaning that after a while they stop getting bigger, phew! They are also referred to as ‘bush’ tomatoes. Determinate tomato plants tend to fruit all at once, so get ready for a passata-making session when they do. Siberian is a cold-tolerant determinate variety that produces early, so you might even get tomatoes before Christmas! Tiny Tim is a gorgeous little bush tomato that is great in a pot for balcony growers.
Indeterminate tomato plants keep growing and growing pretty much until the end of the warm weather. Their fruit ripens over a long period of time, so you can be grazing on tomatoes whenever you like. Most get VERY big, we are talking to two and a half metres here people, don’t underestimate them! If you are growing in a container pick a big one, at least 40cm in diameter and as deep, and prepare to support it with stakes or a tomato trainer/cage. A great, high yielding cherry variety is Red Cherry Cocktail. Then there are the old favourites Grosse Lisse, Tigerella, Sweetie, and Black Russian. If giant veges are your thing go for the Beefsteak or Oxheart plants. These produce massive fruits that have great flavour and juiciness.
Grafted or not? If you are buying tomato seedlings rather than growing your own from seed (which is always the cheaper option) you can try out grafted tomato plants. These are usually well-loved varieties that have been grafted onto a disease resistant, vigorous rootstock. Because of the extra work involved in grafting each plant they are a bit more expensive but some gardeners say the pay off of more fruit is worth it! You may have to do some pruning to control growth if the branches become too crowded, and providing a good trellis or tomato trainer is essential.
Depending on who you talk to there are anywhere from 4000 to 75 000 tomato cultivars around. Not all of them will be available in nurseries, which makes choosing a little easier. Got some questions? Feel free to comment and we’ll be sure to address them as we release timely advice. Take a look at our 2016 list below and stay tuned for more tomato posts as the weather warms up!
CERES-GROWN ORGANIC TOMATOES 2016
DETERMINATE: Determinate tomatoes are generally more compact, high yielding and hold most of their fruit all at once over a short period, making them perfect for preserving.
Colossal Yellow: Good crop of pale yellow 7cm fruit, produced on compact bush to 60cm. Low acid content.
Roma: Has a bushy habit to 1 metre and mid season egg shaped fruits of 4cm by 6 cm long that are used for bottling and cooking as well as drying.
San Marzano: Grows 1 to 1.5 metres and produces a mid season crop of deep red egg shaped fruits of 3-4cm thick by 5-8cm long. The best saucing tomato.
Siberian: An extra early variety that doesn’t require high temps to set fruit. Tasty mid-sized fruit on a compact plant. Good for pots. Wind and cold resistant.
Tatura dwarf: High yielding compact bush type tomato no more than 1m high. This was a popular canning/preserving variety once throughout Victoria. Good flavour.
Tiny Tim: The perfect tomato for pots: very compact plant which produces an abundance of tiny red, tasty cherry tomatoes throughout the season. 50-60cm high
INDETERMINATE: Generally taller growing plants, often referred to as ‘staking’ tomatoes as they require supports. Indeterminate types often have superior flavour and produce fruit over a long period making them ideal for home gardeners.
Beefsteak: ‘Meaty’, full flavoured slicing tomato to 1-1.5 metres in height, with 10-12cm solid deep oblate fruits on very sturdy bushes.
Black Cherry: To 2m or more this tall cherry type produces an abundance of sweet, chocolate-coloured cherry tomatoes. Versatile and tasty.
Black Krim: Dark red beefsteak tomato with unique salty flavour. Requires regular watering to prevent splitting. Very large plant, requires staking. Heavy producer.
Black Russian: Mid sized, dark chocolate coloured fruit. 1.5m high, requires staking. Early producer, tolerant of cold weather.
Burnley Bounty: High-yielding variety developed in Victoria. Medium-sized, tasty, deep-red fruit. Grows up to 1.8m.
Camp Joy: A vigorous, tall growing cherry type tomato to 2m with excellent flavour. Very disease resistant.
Cherry cocktail red: Very tall cherry tomato (needs good support) with small, very sweet fruits. High yielding and hardy.
Cherry cocktail yellow: Very tall cherry tomato (Needs good support) with small, very sweet fruits that are bright yellow when ripe. Much loved by gourmet chefs for summer salads. Prolific fruiter.
Golden Sunrise: medium sized, golden yellow tomatoes that are early maturing and prolific with a sweet, fruity flavour that is quite distinctive. To 2m.
Green Grape (cherry): Distinctive yellow/olive fruit in clusters with a sweet, lemony flavour. Grows up to 1.8m.
Green Zebra: A smaller growing indeterminate to 1-1.2m. Attractive striped green fruit, great flavour and texture. High yielding (up to 13kgs per plant)
Gross Lisse: The good ol’ reliable. Very vigorous up to 2.5m. Much loved by backyard gardeners for its high yields of mid to large red fruit. Late season producer. Tasty and versatile.
Oxheart Red: Will reach 2m and produce solid deep oblate or heart-shaped 10-15cm fruit of a pale pink colour with very few seeds in them and low acid. A single fruit can exceed 500 grams.
Oxheart yellow: An old variety that grows up to 2m high. Fruits are bright yellow, meaty, heart-shaped and have won many taste tests. Needs regular, consistent watering and a well-drained, sunny position to do well.
Principe Borghese: Grows approx 1.5m, semi-determinate. The mid season ovoid-cherry type fruits are 2-3cm in diameter are carried on trusses. Traditional Italian variety used for sun-drying
Riesentraube: German meaning ‘bunch of grapes’. Grows approx 1.5m, prolific bunches of cherry sized fruit with points on the bottom. Great flavour.
Rouge De Marmande: Can grow 1.5 to 2m. An old favourite for the early to mid season crop. Excellent flavour and good fruit set in cool areas. The fruits are usually 6-8cm in diameter, but vary considerably.
St Pierre: French heirloom, medium-sized, red, round fruit with soft, thick, meaty flesh and superb flavour. Produces well in cooler areas.
Stupice: Grows to approx 1.2m. Very tasty mid sized red fruits, produces extremely well in cold climates. Starts early and keeps on fruiting into Autumn.
Sweetie: Tall cherry type. As the name suggests it has very sweet, small fruit produced in abundance throughout the season. Classic cherry tomato.
Tigerella: An iconic heirloom tomato. Grows to approx 1.5m and is one of the most prolific of all varieties. Very attractive, striped, medium sized fruit. Versatile and tasty!
Tommy Toe: Grows 2.2 to 2.7 metres tall when given support. The cherry type fruits have outstanding flavour and are slightly larger than other cherry types. Very heavy fruit set, over 10kg per bush.
Yellow Pear: Cute, golden, pear-shaped fruit are produced over a long growing season, very prolific. Grows 2 to 2.5m with support. Sweet fruit can be used to make interesting preserves. Great in school lunchboxes.