Tomato Selections for 2012
Posted: January 6, 2012
Penn State Regional Horticulture Educator Steve Bogash offers the latest information from his Tomato Trials. You may have noticed that your seed catalogs showed up earlier than ever this winter. With the rapid growth in vegetable gardening, demand promises to be higher than ever. If there are specific varieties of vegetables that you truly want for the coming season, you may want to get your orders in early.
Here at the Penn State Extension office in Chambersburg, PA, we’ve been running variety trials focusing on tomatoes since 2000. We’ve trialed over 300 varieties across the complete spectrum of tomato types in that time. Every year we examine 30-70 varieties and look at taste, production, disease resistance, ease of training and appearance. A complete report is created at the end of every season that is available from the author upon request via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some varieties have floated to the top of our list as great for your garden.
Some varieties to ponder for the coming season:
Cherry / Grape varieties:
Sakura Honey: Making a major impression when you examine and taste many tomatoes is not easy. This variety really stood out from the pack in 2011 with amazing flavor and beautiful pink grape-shaped fruit. Warning: The seeds are somewhat pricey at $9.95 / pack from Johnny’s Seeds. This was easily the standout in flavor in last season’s program.
Red Pearl: Excellent flavor, tender skin, high production and moderate disease resistance made Red Pearl another top pick from our 2011 trial program. Good red color and highly resistant to cracking.
Five Star: 2011 was the year of the grape tomato in our trials program. Five Star was another great producer with good looking, well-flavored fruit. Very few seeds and highly resistant to cracking.
Maglia Rosa: This is a very unusual variety as the fruit are an elongate cherry type that are mottled pink that our tasters describe as ketchup. In both 2010 and 2011, the plants only produced for about 5 weeks, but they did make a lot of fruit that was well worth the garden space.
Sun Gold: No tomato article is complete without a mention of Sun Gold. This yellow orange tomato is the candy of the tomato world. Production is high, the plants are moderately resistant to disease, the fruit taste is awesome, but the fruit crack like mad. Every gardener should have 1 or 2 of these plants, so there is something to eat while gardening.
BrandyBoy: The Brandywine tomato has long been heralded as the best tasting tomato in numerous trial programs, but each plant only produces a few fruit which are very inconsistent and the plants highly susceptible to diseases. Burpee introduced BrandyBoy tomatoes several years ago and they immediately took top honors among red slicing types in our program. When gardeners ask what single tomato to grow, this is the one. BrandyBoy is highly productive with large, pink, great tasting fruit that taste nearly identical to Brandywine.
BHN 589: BHN are the letters used by a tomato breeder in Florida that primarily serves to provide seeds to a commercial grower cooperative. Don’t let the letters and numbers throw you off growing what are usually excellent varieties of hybrid tomatoes. BHN 589 has become a standard for many regional tomato growers as the plants produce copious amounts of great tasting, good looking, medium sized, red tomatoes.
Scarlet Red: Like BHN 589, Scarlet Red is primarily a commercial tomato, but it makes the crossover into the home garden extremely well. This is easily the deepest red tomato that we’ve trialed and it has that perfect sugar / acid balance that is often referred to as ‘real tomato flavor’. Production hint: only remove about 3 suckers or you really reduce production.
Big Beef: This variety has been around for a long time and it still belongs on a top tomatoes list. Big, great tasting, but a little soft fruit on robust plants.
Stupice: Lots of tomatoes claim to be early, but most don’t taste like much. Stupice is an heirloom variety originally from Czechoslovakia that ripens early (55-60 days) and tastes like a real mid-season tomato. The fruit are small at only 3-6 oz, but they will beat most other tomatoes onto your plate by 2-3 weeks.
Pineapple: While there really aren’t any great yellow / orange / red tomatoes, Pineapple is the one that provides the most consistent production, and good flavor. It’s soft and cracks readily, but is the best of this type that we’ve trialed. Pineapple makes an excellent addition to homemade tomato juice.
Mortgage Lifter (Radiator Charlie): Excellent flavor and high production make Mortgage Lifter the #1 large, pink, heirloom that the author recommends to growers. High production and moderate disease resistance separate this variety from most heirlooms.
Arkansas Traveler: This variety makes relatively small fruit at 5-8 oz., but the production is good and the flavor excellent.
Marianna’s Peace: This variety originally came into our program as one of those sample packets included with you order. The fruit are very large and often over 1 pound, pink and very flavorful. The plants are enormous and require very tall supports. Even after every other heirloom has started to fade, Marianna’s Peace will keep on producing.
Having examined so many tomatoes over the years, these are only a few of the standouts from our program. There are many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of tomato varieties. Our goal for this program has been to introduce new tomato varieties to growers. Here at Penn State Extension, we hope you will use this information to grow the best tomatoes ever in the coming season. Please contact one of our county offices or online at http://extension.psu.edu/ for more information. You are cordially invited to taste tomatoes and add your opinions when we have our annual tomato tasting at the Chambersburg, PA Extension office on Wednesday, August 22nd 2012. There is no charge for this event.