Friday, 29 February 2008

What Tomatoes Will You Grow This Year? by David J Murray

As I write this in February (2008) it's the time of year for those of us in the northern hemisphere to be thinking about sowing seeds for a new season. Are you planning to grow tomatoes this year? If so, have you thought of the many varieties you could be growing to give a wonderful range of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours on your table?

Tomatoes can be as small as cherries or they can be several inches across. They may be bright red, or golden yellow, or dark purple almost to the point of being black, They may be spherical, cylindrical or plum-shaped. They can be sharp in flavour or lusciously sweet; firm-fleshed with liquid juice or soft and pasty, ideal for making purees.

Maybe you've done so in the past but if not, why not try growing some of the large "beefsteak" varieties this year? They're so good for slicing onto sandwiches. 'Brandywine' is a long-proven variety of this kind. Or how about the Italian 'Pomodoro Costoluto Genovese'?

Among the medium-sized varieties I've had good results with 'Ailsa Craig'. I'm not quite sure why but I've never grown 'Moneymaker', although it's been popular with generations of gardeners and is a firm recommendation from many growers.

Among the cherry tomatoes my favourite is toward the larger end of the group, 'Gardener's Delight'. My only hesitancy is that in our area we've had very bad blight for several years now and it does appear to be highly susceptible to that scourge of tomato growers. We'll return to the subject of tomato blight later, but I'm probably going to grow just a few this year, and under the protection of the greenhouse. A highly promising new cherry variety this year is 'Suncherry Premium F1 Hybrid'. For plum-shaped fruits why not try 'Olivade F1 Hybrid' or another Italian variety 'Pomodora Roma Nano'.

Earlier I mentioned the broad spectrum of colours available to tomato growers and thence to the cook and the salad bowl. Among the yellows 'Golden Sunrise' is a lasting favourite, and you could try 'Golden Sweet F1 Hybrid'. To give some dark contrast to the mix you can't get much better than 'Black Cherry'. Among the older, often labelled "Heritage" or "Heirloom", varieties are two Russians which produce beautifullly flavoured and large fruits: 'Purple Russian' and 'Black
Russian'. I first came across 'Black Russian' last year in a lonely-looking pot on a plant stall, bought it, and was won over. In future I must grow some from seed.

It is, of course, not necessary to have large amounts of space to grow tomatoes, even indoors or in the greenhouse. As well as the six to ten feet tall cordon plants there are also the small bushy varieties. 'Balconi Red' produces lusciously flavoured fruits, althogh I find it rather an ugly looking plant and prefer 'Gartenperle' for its combination of fruit and nicer appearance.

Some varieties are especially suited for particular uses or for growing under specific conditions. You can hunt around the seed catalogues for these, but here are a few. Two Italian varieties, 'Pomodoro Rio Grande' and 'Il San Marzano Lungo', are said to be especially good for making
tomato pastes. And if you live in a cold area where Winter turns to Summer only slowly then you may want to try 'Sub Arctic Plenty' which I understand was original bred for growing by army personnel stationed in Greenland.

I promised something about blight. It's not so many years since the gardening experts were telling us, "There's no such thing as a blight-resistant tomato", and of course they were correct. More recently bred varieties, though, have included some with greatly enhanced resistance to this disease. 'Ferline' and 'Legend' are two which I'm trying this year for the first time, having given up on growing my favourite 'Gardeners' Delight' out of doors in this area.

So then, that's a quick run down on the great range of tomatoes that you could be growing this year. Get out the seed trays, and on with the germination. I wish you success.

About the Author

David Murray has been an adviser on managerial and ethical issues to companies, governments and voluntary agencies for almost thirty years, but now as he enters semi-retirement is taking more time to enjoy his garden in the English Midlands, and to write material for several family-owned gardening and bookselling web sites.

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