Variety suggestions

emileeg(DFW, TX)March 24, 2011

OK I'm a newbie to tomatoes. I've already started two Roma plants and two Heatwave plants, so that's what I'm growing this year, but I'd like some suggestions for the future!

To start: My husband and I are not big fresh tomato eaters. We like them occasionally on burgers and sandwiches, in guacamole... in fact, most of the time we usually skip tomatoes on salads, or else drown them in dressing. We do LOOOOOVE tomato soup and marinara/spaghetti sauce, though...

Anyways, "just 'cause" I figured I'd put a few tomato plants into the garden plan for this year. I'll give most of them to my mom (who loves them), I thought. My mother, however, is aghast that I didn't plan to plant more. "You'll LOVE homegrown tomatoes," she told me. And then I thought about it, and something I'd read, and realized that I probably don't know what a "real" tomato tastes like.

A book of mine says that most people (myself included) have only ever eaten commercially grown tomatoes sold at the grocery store, which are selected for growing because they are disease/pest resistant, or because they store longer/easier, or because they don't bruise as easily, etc. etc., and TASTE has very little to do with selection. And THEN they're usually harvested green and sold MUCH later, after they ripen.

So I'm re-opening myself to tomatoes. And since my mother (who ate tomatoes like they were apples in her youth) tells me that I have no idea what a "real" tomato tastes like, I'd like some suggestions for varieties I ought to try. I have no idea what kind a "high-acid" or "low-acid" tomato tastes like, or what a "meaty" tomato is like... I've only ever bought and eaten the medium-sized tomatoes that are still on their vines at the grocery store.

As for "how" we eat tomatoes currently... chopped up in guacamole or on salads, sliced for burgers/sandwiches, and I could be convinced to make tomato sauce since I LOOOOOOOVE spaghetti but have only ever used canned tomatoes to make it.

So while I'm pretty much stuck with the four plants I have for this season, I still want to start some research in to other varieties I ought to try! :)

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Since there are literally 1000's of varieties of tomatoes it is impossible to know where to begin. We all have our personal favorites and you can find discussions and info on 100's of them here.

I'd begin by asking your mother if she recalls any variety names. I'd also ask any friends or neighbors who grow tomatoes for the name of their favorites. Personal recommendations from local growers is the best way to start.

Then I'd suggest you go to your local nursery or plant store/supplier and make a list of what the names of the available transplants (I assume you aren't growing from seed since it is too late in your zone?) and let us know what plants you can find. That will narrow down the choices a bit and we can make recommendations from that list for you to get you started off better this year and for next year too.

The plants you already have Roma and Heatwave are not known for any great or even especially good qualities and Roma has some chronic problems with BER so while there is time, my personal recommendation would be to pitch 1 of each of them and buy something else - anything else - to try in their place.

I hope this helps. Let us know what plants are available to you locally.


PS: I did a search over on the Texas Gardening forum here and found the following recommendations for common locally available transplants: Brandywine, Big Boy, Arkansas Traveler, Beefsteak, and Parks Whopper. Why not see if you can find a couple of those to begin with?

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 10:06AM
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tom8olvr(Z5 MA)

I am not a fan of those tomatoes - the painted rocks that they serve with a salad or on a sandwich or the ones you buy at a grocery store. In the Summer when my diet consists of tomato sandwiches and tomato salads my boss commented to me "I thought you didn't like tomatoes. You're always picking them out of your sandwich or off salads. Here you are eating them alone in a sandwich?" I LOVE tomatoes - my tomatoes - I'm not a fan either of the store bought, mass-produced tomato. When you find something you can grow in your area you will LOVE tomatoes too.

I am in another zone - but I've heard that JD Special C Tex grows well in your area. I personally like Indian Stripe, Cherokee Purple, Russian 117, Omars Lebanese, Earl's Faux... again, don't know how'd they do in your area.

Good luck on your quest for a real tomato - you're on the right track!!!!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 10:27AM
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I agree with your Mom, homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than store bought. Store bought have no flavor. When you make some guacamole with your homegrown tomatoes its amazing. Since you're new to growing tomatoes Big Boy is fool proof. But ask around as Dave suggested.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 11:02AM
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dbannie04(8 TX)

I live about 3 hours east of DFW, so I'm probably close enough to your area to give suggestions based on my experience. And I'm fairly new to growing my own tomatoes--this is only my 4th year. As the other posters have mentioned, there are SOO many different kinds of tomatoes out there. I haven't had good luck with either kind that you have planted--my romas produced OK but their flavor was no better than what you can buy in the grocery store--why? Because that is one variety that they grow and sell in the grocery store!! They may or may not do well for you, but please don't throw in the towel after this years harvest if you're not impressed with what you get. As many kinds as there are, there is bound to be several that you will LOVE! Once you taste a good home grown tomato, there will be no turning back--you'll be hooked!!

I would also recommend going to the farmers market and picking up a few to try--if you find one you like ask what variety it is!

Last year I had great luck with Park's Whopper (even though it was a hot and dry spring/summer), JS 2000, German Queen (nearly 2 lbs!), Early Wonder, Red Cherry, and Sugary. I couldn't keep up with them, so I froze a lot and made spaghetti and pizza sauce. I would recommend selecting varieties that you like to eat fresh and freezing the extra rather than growing tomatoes specifically for sauce. In my opinion, most sauce tomatoes don't taste that great sliced fresh and they have a mealy texture. My lemon boy and yellow pear were also extremely productive, but I wasn't too keen on the flavor--kind of blah. I have about 30 new kinds I'm about to set out next week, so hopefully I'll have some new favorites. Good luck with your tomatoes and keep searching/tasting/experimenting until you find some you can't live without!!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 12:11PM
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ediej1209(5 N Central OH)

Welcome to a whole new world of flavor! dbannie04 has a great suggestion about trying different kinds from a farmer's market. They should not just be yummy, they should be varieties that grow well in your area. I'm another one who is not a fan of Roma - or any other "paste" tomato, but being the "Frugal Scot" that I am, I wouldn't just throw away plants if they are healthy and growing. Give them a shot - they can be your "experimental" plants so that next year when you grow other kinds, you'll have a better idea of what's involved. Most of all - have fun!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 1:08PM
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emileeg(DFW, TX)

Y'all have me really excited about growing tomatoes now :)

My mom never grew tomatoes in my lifetime. The house I grew up in did not get enough sun for us to grow veggies :( She grew them when my older brothers were kids (they're 10 and 12 years older than me), so I'm not sure she'd remember what she grew. Her strongest memories of delicious tomatoes go back to when she was a child and my Nana would bring home a bushel of big, juicy tomatoes from the local farmer's market, and she and her brothers would eat them like apples :)

I went to the store to see what plants they had, and there were SO MANY. I was surprised!

Is there a big difference between hybrids and heirlooms OTHER than that heirlooms produce viable seeds that will produce fruits the same as the parent plants? I keep seeing the phrase "heirloom taste," so do heirlooms taste better? And do I have to have heirloom tomatoes for them to produce seeds that I can save, even though tomatoes self-pollinate?

Here are the varieties that our store has (the list is BIG!). I didn't include any cherry tomatoes because, honestly, they make me kind of sick... I ate way too many once when I was in 5th grade, and my stomach churns whenever I see them now >.>

Super Fantastic
Parker's Whopper
Better Bush
Big Boy
Better Boy
Big Beef
Bonnie Original
Bonnie Select
Early Girl
BHN 602
Bush Goliath
Black Prince

Pink Brandywine
Red Beefsteak
Cherokee Purple

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 7:10PM
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tom8olvr(Z5 MA)

I'd suggest cherokee purple, black prince for sure.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 10:49AM
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Many of the heirlooms were once the "hybrids" of their time. Stabilizing a hybrid takes growing many generations of a variety of plant and saving the seeds from fruits selected so that finally the fruit produced from seeds is stable, producing the same traits(type of fruit) over and over. Some people that post here have stabilized hybrids and are experts on tomato genetics, I am not one of them. All I've done is save seeds from heirlooms, but I have fun doing that.

I find that heirlooms do generally taste better. People that keep these heirlooms going, usually save seeds from fruit that tastes the best, whereas many of the hybrids today are developed for qualities like long shelf life, appearance, and production. Many heirlooms also produce nicely and look great! There are many solid hybrids though and because they are picked and eaten fresh they taste better than supermarket tomatoes.

From your list of hybrids, I've heard good things about Big Beef, Park's Whopper, and Better Boy. I highly recommend you try a couple Cherokee Purples heirlooms also, just so you can experience the flavor a dark tomato. One of my favorites, Indian Stripe, is a dark tomato much like Cherokee Purple but that produces better for me.

You may want to try out Northaven Gardens, located near Hwy 75 and 635 in Dallas. They carry a good many heirlooms, Black Krim being one that comes to mind. Regardless, get them in the ground as soon as possible, if you want to get many fruits. Except for the cherry varities, plants don't produce much, if any, fruit by mid-July.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 2:02PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

If you think that list is big wait until we get you converted to growing your own from seed! :) I wasn't exaggerating when I said thousands of varieties.

That is a fairly basic list of common transplants with a few first class ones included that you don't often see as transplants. You'll find most any of them to be superior to what you already have planted or have eaten before.

If you feel ready to try some colors other than red then go for the Black Prince and the Cherokee Purple. If you want to stick with red and pinks for now then I would pick the Big Beef, Big Boy, and the Whopper if you want big plants. Smaller plants are the Better Bush, Celebrity and Bush Goliath.

Find some room to try at least one of them this year and enjoy it.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 5:18PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

Hi emileeg,

Dave's right, there are literally thousands of heirloom and open pollinated tomatoes. Personally, I have over 600 varieties of seeds and that is merely a drop in the bucket as far as that goes.

Of the plants listed, Atkinson, Homestead, Pink Brandywine, perhaps Red Beefsteak, and Cherokee Purple are heirlooms. (If I am not mistaken, Red Beefsteak is also known as Crimson Cushion, Henderson's Crimson Cushion, Ponderosa Red, or just Beefsteak.) All should be good tomatoes.

Atkinson did well at the 2009 SETTFest tomato tasting in Texas. 6-10 oz fruit, red in color with green shoulders, DTM aout 80 days, indeterminate, Regular Leaf. I have not grown that one. (Jeez, now it is on my list for .... someday. *sigh*)

Brandywine, a Pink Beefsteak 12-16 oz. range in size, DTM 78-85, Indeterminate, Potato Leaf.

Cherokee Purple, Dusky Rose Beefsteak, 8-16 oz. DTM 78, Indeterminate, Regular Leaf

Homestead is good for fresh eating or canning, about 4-8 oz. in size Red Globe Slicer, DTM 60-70, Semi-determinate, Regular Leaf.

Beefsteak, a.k.a. Henderson's Crimson Cushion, Ponderosa Red, etc.; a 1 to 1 1/2 lb. Red Beefsteak, DTM 80, Indeterminate, Regular Leaf.

I don't think you can go to far wrong with any of them. I realize there are some good hybrids out there too, but I only grow Sungold hybrids, so really can't comment on the others.

Of course, your mileage may vary.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 5:26PM
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I'm just stumbling across your post after doing a search for Bonnie Select. I too have always hated tomatoes. I love spaghetti, chili, everything with tomatoes in it, but whenever I eat out, I always order my food with no tomatoes on it.

This year I'm starting my first vegetable garden. It's going great and I have several tomato plants too. Why? The same reason you started yours. I've heard and read that if you've only ever tasted store-bought tomatoes, you've never tasted a real tomato! I just harvested my first two off the Better Bush plant and they're yummy! I took some to my mom to try and she said it was freaky to see me just munching on a slice of raw tomato. Honestly, she's right. Haha! So far I'm impressed with the Better Bush. I have it in a 5 gallon pot on the patio and it's doing great. Once it had its roots established (just like any other tomato plant) it took off. It's a much smaller plant than the heirloom Marglobes but it's been a very early producer. It's still growing so hopefully I'll get lots more tomatoes off of it. I can't wait to try the Marglobes!

One of my Marglobes has been lost to wilt. :( The container said they are VF resistant but that doesn't mean they're resistant to all strains of verticulum or fusarium. I've had a hard time identifying it but I think it's probably something that was spread by a pest. Before I planted flowers near the garden, I hadn't seen any ladybugs and the aphids and spider mites were already getting really bad. Since planting flowers, I haven't had to use my insecticidal soap once. Yay! I love how nature works!

Anyway, I bought one Bonnie Select plant to replace the lost Marglobe. It's supposed to be extremely disease resistant. We'll see!

So how did your tomatoes do last season? And what are you growing this year?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2012 at 11:13AM
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