After working at a garden center this spring and summer, I have learned that there are an immense amount of different tomato varieties to choose from. Each having their own different genetics, taste, and disease resistance tailored for every tomato enthusiast. It may seem difficult to choose which variety would be best for you, but I assure you that the choice is not too tough once you grow a few varieties that interest you.
I, like many other gardeners tend to pick one or two varieties of tomatoes and just stick with that favorite rather than venture out into the unknown despite the possibility of finding a new variety that suits your needs better than your traditional ones. Some varieties are better at doing other things in the kitchen than others. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about personal preference. The main difference outside of plant health and the way it grows and the type of fruit they create. There is a difference in the size and water content that each variety holds, which means a lot in the kitchen.
1. Roma Tomato
Roma tomatoes are a plum tomato known for their texture, lack of water content and seeds. The tomato is known to be used for canning recipes, tomato paste. The tomato variety is referred to as the Italian tomato. This variety is determinate and seems to bear a decent amount of fruit, it also reaches maturity relatively early in as little as 75 days.
The plants reach a height of about three feet at their peak maturity, with fruit weighing on average about two ounces per individual piece. The Roma variety is open pollinated (pollinated by the wind, bugs or by other natural methods). There is a variant known as Roma VF, developed by USDA in the 1950s. The variant is resistant to fusarium fungal infections.
2. Why I Chose Roma
I chose Roma tomatoes for a few reasons. One of them being that it was the ones that my family has always grown due to the variety being very common in the grocery stores. It may be significant to also mention that part of my lineage does derive from Italian/Sicilian heritage and some recipes that were passed down do require Roma tomatoes to best compliment the application.
I also appreciated how the plant grows naturally as a determinate variety. It is more bush like, and one doesn’t really have to worry about pruning as much as someone who is growing an indeterminate variety that can sprawl about and get up to more than five feet tall. The variety tends to produce a decent amount of fruit all at once for one major harvest, with a few here and there before and after, which is perfect if you are like me and plan on trying to can this year and do most of your harvest in one or two days.
3. Benefits of Planting Roma
As I listed above, Roma tomatoes have a lot of little features that make them worth the “trouble” of growing. I will highlight them here again just to summarize the incentives. The first incentive being that they are relatively low maintenance and require little to no pruning to give a good yield. The second incentive being that the plants don’t get too tall and you don’t need to build a giant trellis or buy 5-6ft tomato cages.
Third and most important to me, is that the tomatoes lack a high percentage of water content and a firm flesh with little amounts of seed , making them ideal to preserve via water-bath canning/cooking. This season I am getting into food preservation as a skill and to utilize my garden during the winter months rather than give most away to people or the compost
4. Cherokee Purple Tomato
Cherokee purple tomatoes are a mysterious variety that I just learned about this year, as there was a man at work who told me he only grows this type of tomato due to its taste. This man made some income selling his own tomato based salsa and he swore by the taste of the tomatoes as he said they give off kind of a slight smoky flavor. They produce giant beefsteak fruit and have an interesting color to them that many people describe as unsightly. They are indeterminate a tomato variety and the plants if pruned correctly can supposedly grow up to nine feet tall. Their fruit can weigh up to 16oz and takes up to 80 days to mature.
The history of the variety is quiet interesting to me personally; supposedly the seed was very rare prior to a seed exchange in the early 1990’s. The tomatoes got their name form an individual named Craig LeHoullier as it was speculated that the seed originated from the Cherokee tribe over a hundred or so years ago.
5. Why I Chose Cherokee Purple
I chose this variety as I wanted to see if the man I met with at work was lying to me or not. I found the name of the tomato to be very interesting, so like many people, the story is what sold me. I also previously had only grown Roma tomatoes so I wanted to challenge/push myself to learn how to grow an indeterminate variety that requires a trellis and pruning. Growing this variety is what pushed me to try and expand my horizon in the realm of tomato varieties.
I also am excited to see how big and “ugly” the variety really is. Most importantly, I want to make a salsa with the tomatoes or a pizza or pasta sauce to see if I get any hint of “smokiness” that many people claim the variety has.
6.Benefits of Planting Cherokee Purple
The benefits of planting this variety are plentiful. It is a popular choice amongst many gardeners for a reason. There is an NPR article written by Elizabeth Barclay that highlights the history of the variety and its perks in her article, Cherokee Purple: The Story Behind One Of Our Favorite Tomatoes. She goes on to describe the hardiness and history in her article when she talks about the variety when she quotes Smithsonian horticulturist Joe Brunetti when she writes, “As for the Cherokee legend, Joe Brunetti, a horticulturalist with Smithsonian Gardens who manages the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History, says it’s quite conceivable that the Cherokees were growing tomatoes in Tennessee over 100 years ago.
“We grow the Cherokee Purple in the Victory Garden because it tolerates the humidity and diseases here better than the other dark tomatoes,” says Brunetti. “That makes sense if it comes from the Tennessee River Valley originally, which is also humid” (Barclay).
The mystery of the origin, speculated flavor, and overall novelty of the appearance of the tomato variety are typically enough to get most people planting the seeds or seedlings in their garden beds during the summer. You could even sacrifice a few fruits and have a high chance of success at saving the seeds from your plants this summer.
7. What Varieties I Would Like to Grow in The Future
With this newfound inspiration I hope to gain the courage to branch out and try other varieties that were recommended to me such as the lemon boy variety which is told to be sweet, meaty, and low-acid for those of us who tend to suffer with indigestion and heartburn. Another variety I want to try and grow is Juliet tomatoes even though they are cherry tomatoes, I hear that the flavor and taste of this variety is refreshing and will amaze me. Lastly, I would like to grow a San Marzano or two as they are similar to that of a Roma tomato, but this tomato only has two seed chambers, is less acidic/sweeter and is slightly longer/more slim than that of a Roma, also making them ideal for food preservation.
I am growing two varieties this growing season. One variety is new to me another one a staple to my family’s garden for many years. Each tomato variety has its own unique background and story in respect to how I came to stumble across the variety or managed to hear about it. Most of the varieties I mentioned were only brought to my attention by older people who had grown the variety in the past.
I decided to grow the Cherokee purple tomatoes last minute as a small experiment to see what all the hype was about and to try my hand at learning how to prune indeterminate varieties. As I learn more about gardening and more about ancient indigenous cultures through my appreciation of their stone tools and some of their interplanting gardening methods such as the three sisters method (that I have mentioned in previous posts on my website). I hope to try my hand at growing more varieties to broaden both my experience and tomato wisdom so that if I am lucky enough to grow old I too may pass on the tomato wisdom to those who are young and curious about varieties and gardening.
Barclay, Eliza. “Cherokee Purple: The Story behind One of Our Favorite Tomatoes.” NPR, 18 Aug. 2015, www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/18/432771713/cherokee-purple-the-story-behind-one-of-our-favorite-tomatoes.