tomato guide: choosing the right one for you
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.
how to choose the right tomato
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 or semi-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 2018 list below (we are growing 33 different varieties) and stay tuned for more tomato posts as the weather warms up!
CERES-GROWN ORGANIC TOMATOES 2018
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.
- Banana Legs: Bears many oval shaped fruit 70-80mm long often with distinctive bend. Paste type with firm, thick yellow flesh, 72-78 days.
- Siberian: An extra early variety that doesn’t require high temperatures to set fruit. Tasty mid-sized fruit on a compact plant. Good for pots. Can be planted early and late season. Use for salads, sauce and drying.
- Tatura dwarf: High yielding, compact, bush type tomato. This was a popular canning/preserving variety once throughout Victoria. Good, sweet and tangy flavour with juicy flesh. Australian heirloom.
- Tiny Tim: The perfect tomato for pots, hanging baskets, and for children. Very compact plant which produces an abundance of tiny red, tasty cherry tomatoes throughout the season. 50-60cm high. American heirloom.
Semi-determinate plants are more compact than inderminate types but are also capable of producing fruit throughout the season.
- Kotlas: Small, very sweet, round fruit. Can retain slightly green tops even after ripening. This variety originates from Russia and is a very successful producer even under cool conditions.
- Nebraska Wedding: A 10cm large, deep orange heirloom tomato. Seeds were given to brides in Nebraska as a gift because they are suited to cold, windy environments. Low in acid and late harvesting into autumn.
- Roma:Italian plum-shaped fruits of 4cm by 6 cm long that are used for bottling and cooking as well as drying. Firm, meaty flesh with a thick skin.
- 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. Drought tolerant.
- Yellow Cherry Honeybee: A very sweet, prolific yellow cherry with clustered fruit. Early maturing and disease resistant. Great for salads, saucing and bottling. Australian heirloom.
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.
- Black Truffle: A heavy-cropping Russian heirloom with a deep burgundy colour and a rich, sweet flavour. Large fruit is tear-drop shaped. Continues producing over a long period
- 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.
- College Challenger: Bred in the 1950s in NSW, tolerates heat well and fruits early. Known to be extremely prolific. Red, dense, round, large fruit with great flavour eaten raw or cooked.
- 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 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 3m. Much loved by backyard gardeners for its high yields of mid to large red fruit. Late season producer. Tasty and versatile.
- Jaune Flame: Beautiful bright orange French heirloom with a rich, fruity, tart flavour. Fruit in clusters. Cold tolerant and prolific over a long period. Use for salads, salsa, drying, saucing.
- Oxheart Red: Will reach 2 metres 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.
- 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 2 metres. 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
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- Growing tomatoes 1 – choosing the right one for you
- Growing tomatoes 2 – seed-sowing and transplanting
- Growing tomatoes 3 – watering and fertilising
- Growing tomatoes 4 – staking and pruning
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