Tiny terrific tomatoes to tempt even timid gardeners

By A.J. Heinsz-Bailey

Before you can repeat that tongue twister five times you will have the knowledge to grow your own tiny treasures. True tomato enthusiasts long for that first vine-ripened tomato every spring. To help shorten the wait, consider growing cherry tomatoes. These delicious morsels will pleasantly surprise your taste buds. Cherry tomatoes come in many colors, produce generous amounts of fruit, and are easier to grow than their larger cousins. Originating in South America, the tomato is one of North America’s favorite vegetables. Legally, in 1893 the Supreme Court in Nix vs. Hedden declared the tomato as a vegetable, even though biologically speaking it is a fruit.

There are several things to consider when choosing a cherry tomato variety to grow. There is size (from marble to golf ball), shape (round, grape, or pear), color (red, green, yellow, pink, orange, dark purple), and disease resistance. Cherry tomatoes are also selected for their sweet tomato taste.

Size and shape are usually combined in variety descriptions. The tiniest is the currant tomato, which has all the flavor of a large tomato concentrated into the size of a pea. The midsized traditional cherry tomatoes are the size of a large marble and are super sweet. The largest members of the group are the pear tomato and the grape tomato. They resemble their namesakes in shape and are great for salads and fresh eating.

 Tomato plants can be either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate plants will produce tomatoes that all ripen around the same time and the plant does not need staking, while indeterminate plants will continue producing new growth and new fruits throughout the growing season and can reach lengths of 20 feet or more. These plants will need staking or trellising.

Over 100 cultivated varieties exist with new types introduced every year.

Cherry tomatoes can be grown from seed or transplants. Transplants are easier and produce fruits sooner. Seeds allow you to grow more varieties or save your favorite tomatoes from year to year. You might want to do both for maximum production. A third option is to root a sucker (side shoot) in water. 

If growing from seed, plant seeds ¼ inch deep in moist soil. They will germinate in seven to 14 days. Select a site that receives at least eight hours of sun daily. Ground temperatures should be above 65 F. The end of March or beginning of April is prime planting time because the danger of frost has passed. Cultivate the soil to a depth of 8-12 inches. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and grow best in soils rich in organic materials. Space plants 24-48 inches apart. Seeds can also be started inside four to six weeks before the last frost if you have a sunny windowsill.

If you don’t have space in the ground, consider planting container-sized varieties. They can be grown in 1-gallon pots or hanging baskets. ‘Tumbling Tom’, ‘Profusion’, and ‘Terenzo’ are small plants with abundant small red round fruits. 

Watering is simple. Tomatoes are shallow rooted and require evenly moist soil. Water early in the morning to avoid leaf and fruit diseases. Two or three times a week should be adequate if there is no rain.

Cherry tomatoes require no pruning. Fertilize plants a few weeks after planting with a general-purpose fertilizer (13-13-13). Water-soluble fertilizers can also be used during the growing season. 

Most cherry tomato plants will start flowering in about a month. Flowers will be followed by tiny green fruits. After a few weeks, inspect the vines daily for ripe fruits, which will come off  their stems very easily. Your plant will continue to produce right up until frost. If the weather turns unseasonably cool or an early frost is predicted, you can cover your plants with an old sheet  to extend your harvest season.

To save seeds from ripe tomatoes, squeeze out the pulp and seeds into a container. Add a little water amd let the container sit for at least one day in a warm (80-90 F) spot out of direct sunlight so that the pulp can ferment. This  allows the tomato seeds to separate from the gelatinous coating that covers them. Viable seed will sink to the bottom of this mixture, and dead seeds will float. When a small amount of mold begins to form on the mixture, pour off the floating solids and dead seeds and thoroughly rinse the remaining seeds in running water. Once thoroughly cleaned, seeds can be placed on a screen and left to dry for six or seven days. Store in a cool, dry place and the seeds will remain viable four to eight years.

There are several varieties that grow well in our area. ‘Isis Candy’ is a pretty round fruit. ‘Candyland Red’ is a new, supersweet currant tomato. ‘Juliette’ has 1½-2-ounce grape-shaped fruits that are wonderful in salads, sauces, and salsas. ‘Supersweet 100’ hybrid red tomatoes are indeterminate plants resistant to verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt. ‘Black Cherry’ has a complex, rich, sweet flavor. ‘SunSugar’ produces supersweet, richly flavored golden fruit. ‘Rapunzel’ produces long tresses of marble-sized red fruit. ‘Cherry Grande’ is a large red sweet variety. ‘Sun Gold’, ‘Gold Nugget’, ‘Indigo Rose’, ‘Yellow Pear’, are proven performers for our area. ‘Green Grape’ is about 5 feet tall with large, slightly oblong fruit borne in clusters of eight or nine that turn yellowish green when ripe. Eat them like candy. 

Cherry tomatoes are rich in calcium, iron, lycopene, and vitamins A and C. Over 100 cultivated varieties exist with new types introduced every year. You will be abundantly rewarded by these easy-to-grow tasty tidbits all season long. While it is perfectly fine to grow the recommended varieties, the real adventure is in finding your own favorite.

The Tomato Alphabet

  • (I) –Indeterminate means that the plant continues to grow after fruit set, and fruit is harvested over a long period of time. Tomatoes in all stages of development may be on the plant at the same time.
  • (D) – Determinate means that the plant does not continue to grow once fruit has set. Harvest time is shorter as all the fruit develops at the same time. This is good for those who want to process fruit, and want it all ready at the same time.
  • Disease resistance or tolerance is noted by the initials of V, F, FF, N, T, and A., V: Verticillium wilt, F: Fusarium wilt, Race 1, FF: Fusarium wilt, Races 1 & 2, N: Nematodes, T: Tobacco mosaic virus, A: Alternaria, St: Stemphylium gray leaf spot, TSWV: Tomato spotted wilt virus
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