Get big returns for little work by growing your own cherry tomatoes
Story by Karen Ott Mayer
One of the most satisfying gardening endeavors comes from the smallest of vegetables and returns a big, prolific investment. Cherry tomatoes offer every gardener, but especially beginners, a fun, flavorful way to grow produce. These little gems also score well with kids,who like to help plant and pick in the garden, with the small tomatoes fitting perfectly into small hands.
Like so many others, I’ve grown cherry tomatoes almost as an aside. After all, they’re not like the main players, the big tomatoes, right? How can a little round tomato the size of a marble compete with a huge ‘Beefsteak’ or ‘Whopper’? Why would anyone grow these small tomatoes?
Eaten fresh or traded for neighbors’ produce, cherry tomatoes keep giving even when we feel like giving up.
One reason is these powerful little producers do just that – produce. The first cherry tomato I ever planted kept producing until a frost put a stop to it. And when they begin producing, they set dozens of tomatoes all over the plant. The fruit bears in an array of colors, from bright sunny yellow to dark red, even deep purplish reds. Dozens of varieties are available, so a good place to start is with color preference. Other factors to consider include use. Are you hoping to just eat them fresh in salads and dishes or make sauces?
One cherry tomato planted in a large, deep pot can provide a family with plenty of bite-sized fruit all season. One year, I chose one plant for a large deep crock that originally served as part of a well system. A south-facing location up against the house, the crock ran 4 feet deep. I filled it with commercial potting soil and popped in the plant. By the end of the growing season, the plant had grown to the roof – over 7 feet tall! It fast outgrew the original staking, so we ran strings to support the leggy growth and the weight of the fruit.
That’s the thing about a cherry tomato. Once established, it grows fast. On average, fruit is ready to pick in just over two months.
When thinking about habit and location, a cherry tomato’s habit mimics its larger cousins. Plants need a sunny location, perform well when given room to set deep roots, and require staking and fertilizing. A key difference is that cherry tomatoes tend to resist disease better and seem to have a greater ability to adapt to less-than-ideal conditions. No matter the variety, it’s still a good idea to look for indeterminate vines that are resistant to wilts, like fusarium and verticillium wilts.
Harvesting the tomatoes takes little effort. They pull easily from the plant, and in fact, the tight clusters along each leaf can be picked by the handfuls if done just right. They are best eaten fully ripe, so if the fruit resists a slight tug, wait another day or two and check again. The small gems grow in tight clusters neatly lined up on long branches, which can droop from the weight.
Preserving cherry tomatoes is another thing. Just like large tomatoes, they can be canned or frozen. Freezing can be incredibly simple by just laying the tomatoes on trays and putting them in the freezer. Once frozen, they can be popped into freezer bags. Because they lose their texture and intense flavor, however, freezing isn’t ideal.
Reliable varieties can be found easily. ‘Supersweet 100’, a red fruit on an indeterminate vine, is an old favorite of many gardeners. It’s resistant to fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt and highly prolific. ‘Sweet Million’ is another popular variety. Also a red fruit, this plant is another proven variety that is vigorous and early. This plant can reach 4-6 feet tall, so plan accordingly.
Just when you thought growing cherry tomatoes couldn’t be any easier, along comes another choice: pear tomatoes. An older variety that falls in this group, pear tomatoes are shaped just like small pears and bear yellow or red fruit.
As the summer progresses and the counters fill with cheerful, colorful bowls of cherry tomatoes, no one needs to be reminded of their value. Eaten fresh or traded for neighbors’ produce, cherry tomatoes keep giving even when we feel like giving up.
FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN
Pop cherry tomatoes into salads either whole or cut in half.
Use in pasta salads, either whole or cut in half. They can be combined with nearly any short pasta, such as penne, rotini, or shells.
Coat with olive oil and herbs. Spread onto a cookie sheet and roastin the oven. They can be eaten just roasted or mixed in any number of dishes.
Combine pear tomatoes with cherry tomatoes for a colorful display.