Is there such a thing as too many tomatoes? Nah!
Story by Kenny Coogan
Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables with home gardeners, and for good reason: Compared to homegrown, store-bought tomatoes are unfortunately quite disappointing. Homegrown tomatoes taste so much better, with flavors that are more complex.
Florida’s warm climate allows us to plant tomatoes in late winter or early spring, when the rest of the country is still shivering. Since tomatoes are a warm-weather crop, resist the urge to put them in the ground until the danger of frost has passed. I usually finish a crop in late fall and have another set of plants that I put in the greenhouse over the winter.
All of the tomatoes that I have selected, listed below, have a large, sprawling growth habit and will require pruning and support. They are all indeterminate varieties, meaning they will produce fruit over a period of several months. If you are interested in drying tomatoes and saving money, choose the plum- or pear-shaped varieties.
‘Japanese Black Trifele’ – I do not understand the naming process, but this unusual pear-shaped fruit is actually a Russian heirloom. The color of the 4-6 ounce fruit is described as deep color with green shoulders.
It is a very productive plant, starting early and bearing through late in the season. It produces crack-resistant fruits in 75 days.
‘Green Zebra’ – Developed in 1985 by Tom Wagner, Alice Waters chose this beautiful tomato for her famous California restaurant Chez Panisse. Today it is a favorite of many chefs, specialty markets, and home gardeners.
The plant grows 3-5 ounce fruits that ripen to a yellowish gold with alternating dark green zebra-like stripes. Well-branched vines provide good foliage cover and have some resistance to septoria leaf spot. I grow this variety every year in my greenhouse from November to March. Fruits in 86 days.
‘Amy’s Apricot’ – This cherry tomato is vigorous and productive. According to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, it is a challenging variety to offer due to the fruit’s variation.
Even after years of vigorous selection, the fruits vary from intensely fruity, sweet, luscious orange spheres, which they originally described, to mostly red fruits, and a wide range of oranges. Regardless, many growers say it beats the flavor of the popular ‘Sungold’ variety. The fruits grow in clusters of two to 12 and range from ½ to 1½ inches in 75 days.
‘Pittman Valley Plum’ – This German heirloom from Pennsylvania’s Pittman Valley produces elongated, pointy-ended paste tomatoes. The pinkish red fruits, 1½ inch by 5 inches, are almost seedless and perfect for sauces.
Some fruits occasionally drop when ripe, but are rarely damaged and often hold for at least two weeks. Fruits in 88 days.
‘Cherokee Purple’ – This Tennessee heirloom reportedly was originally grown by members of the Cherokee Nation. This large, smooth tomato has slightly ridged shoulders and reaches 10-12 ounces on plants that average 5 feet tall. The fruits ripen to a unique dark, dusky pink/purple. Sometimes called a black tomato, the color carries through to the flesh, especially at the stem end. This variety has good resistance to septoria leaf spot. ‘Cherokee Purple’ has spread widely since its introduction and can now be purchased not only from specialty seed suppliers, but local garden centers, mainstream seed catalogs, and even some big-box stores. Fruits in 85 days.
‘Amy’s Sugar Gem’ – This “two-bite” cherry tomato, measures 1½ by 1¾ inches and has a meaty texture and a small core. It grows tall and vigorous with productive vines. The sweet tomato is excellent in salads, sandwiches, and sauces. This variety was developed by Dr. Jeff McCormack, founder and previous owner of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. It is named for Amy Boor Hereford, whose grandmother, Tappy, introduced Jeff to heirloom tomatoes. “Sugar gem” refers to the sweet, full flavor and the tiny light gold sparkles on the red skin. Fruits in 75 days.
‘Yellow Pear’ – This pear-shaped yellow cherry tomato produces fruits that are 1½ by ¾ inches. They have a mild flavor, are very productive, and are heat resistant. The vines can reach up to 8 feet.
This variety is prone to splitting if not watered regularly. They are excellent for popping into your mouth as you work the garden. This variety can be used for drying or preserves. I have had a lot of success growing these in Tampa. Fruits in 75 days.
Special thanks to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for the images in this article.