Looking forward to planting tomatoes

Jessica Walliser
| Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 9:08 p.m.

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 34-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 34-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 14-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.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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