Looking forward to planting tomatoes
With this week's freezing temperatures, spring may seem a long way off. It isn't, though, and we gardeners are reminded of it on a near-daily basis. The seed catalogs bursting out of our mailboxes serve as a much-needed reminder that spring will eventually come. We'll be back outside, elbow-deep in manure and pruners in our back pocket, before we know it.
While you are flipping through those seed catalogs and dog-earring the pages, I'd like to tell you about a few things you might want to be on the lookout for. The “things” I'm referring to are America's favorite vegetable. And, no, I'm not talking about French fries — I'm talking about tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes to be more specific.
I'd like to introduce you to some of my favorite cherry varieties so that, perhaps, you'll add a few of them to your “must-have” list for the coming garden season. I love these varieties for their beauty, their flavor and their vigor. But, most of all, I love them because my kid loves them. He claims to not like tomatoes, but, yet, he'll happily eat cherry tomatoes simply because I tell him they are cherries (a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do ...).
You'll be surprised at how gorgeous some of them are, in addition to tasting out-of-this-world. Here are my favorites:
“Isis Candy”: Multi-colored fruits are marbled with orange, red and yellow and often have a golden starburst pattern on the blossom end when ripe. This beautiful coloration is carried throughout the fruit's interior as well. Each tomato is 3⁄4-inch across and has a sweet, rich tomato flavor with tender, thin skin. A consistent performer, though not as prolific as other cherries, ‘Isis Candy' should be allowed to fully ripen on the vine to allow the flavor to completely develop.
“Black Cherry”: This variety has a classic black-tomato flavor: sweet, rich, smoky and complex. The 1-inch, mahogany-brown fruits are easily harvested and produced in moderation on very vigorous plants that exhibit decent disease resistance. Though the skins are a bit thicker and plants produce slightly later than some other cherry varieties, Black Cherry is a must-have for my garden.
“Green Grape”: Plants produce lovely, yellowish green fruits that have darker green shoulders and a kiwi-colored interior. Each grape-shaped tomato measures about an inch across and has a zippy, mildly sweet flavor. Fruits grow in clusters of up to a dozen, much like grapes, and have very thick walls and few seeds, giving them a meaty texture. Plants show good disease resistance, especially to wilts.
“Sun Gold”: Considered by many to be the gold standard of cherry tomatoes for its sweet, sugary taste, Sun Gold is an early-ripening variety that continues to produce prolifically until frost. The folks at Trade Winds Fruit in Windsor, Calif., have noted that a single ‘Sun Gold' plant has produced more than 1,000 tomatoes! Each 3⁄4-inch fruit is a beautiful golden-yellow and hangs in large, drooping clusters of up to 20 fruits. Sun Gold's only negative is the fruit's tendency to split after heavy rains.
“Snow White”: With ivory-colored fruits that mature to a creamy soft yellow, ‘Snow White' is as prolific as other cherry varieties and shows increased disease resistance. The fruits measure an inch across and have a sweet, fruity flavor that's just right for garden snacking. Of all the cherry tomatoes I have grown, this is my personal favorite. I find it to be sweet without being overly sugary and it produces consistently until the first frost. A slightly larger variety called ‘Super Snow White' sets ping-pong ball-sized fruits that are just as sweet.
“Sweet Pea Currant”: One of the tiniest tomatoes you'll find, ‘Sweet Pea Currant' bears an abundance of mini-fruits delicately arranged with a dozen or so on each truss. Measuring a mere 1⁄4-inch across, the cardinal red pea-sized fruits are born on sprawling plants covered in tiny leaves. Everything about this plant is cute! Tomatoes have a very sweet, fruity flavor and are a huge hit in the salad bowl.
“Tumbling Tom Yellow”: A sunny, yellow cherry with the unique attribute of being a perfect fit for small spaces. Other short-statured, cherry-type varieties are available (including ‘Tiny Tim,' ‘Red Robin' and the red version of ‘Tumbling Tom'), but ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow' is one of only a handful of non-red choices. Fruits measure 1 inch across and rambling vines reach only 2 feet long at maturity. ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow' will cascade over the sides of containers and hanging baskets, making a beautiful display of the ripening fruits. Fruits are juicy and sweet and are produced prolifically on the short, determinate vines.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.
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