Tomatoes: Decisions, Decisions

Choosing the best variety of tomato.

By Doug Hall

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If it weren’t so much fun, selecting tomato varieties would be downright overwhelming. There are hundreds to choose from: tomatoes for slicing, for cooking, for juicing, for stuffing, for eating out of hand; varieties that are bred for lower acidity, early production, disease resistance, and extra nutrients; skin colors from pale amber to near-black; bite-sized currant tomatoes to craggy beefsteaks. Some varieties are broadly adapted, while others excel in specific climates, such as cool-summer regions. When choosing varieties, rely on the experience of local experts, including market growers, extension agents, and master gardeners—but don’t hesitate to experiment.

Best of the Test Garden

In the Organic Gardening Test Garden, we plant as many different tomato varieties as we have space for—about two dozen every year. Here are a few standouts from recent summers.

'Green Zebra'

Tangy and flavorful, this medium-size, open-pollinated variety is streaked on the outside, pale green inside.

Green Zebra
Photo: Patrick Montero
Brandywine
Photo: Patrick Montero

'Brandywine'

Beloved for its classic tomato taste, this big heirloom can frustrate gardeners with slow, stingy production.

'San Marzano Gigante 3'

Although intended as a paste tomato, this hefty open-pollinated variety has a smoky flavor that’s good for fresh eating.

San Marzano Gigante 3
Photo: Christa Neu
Black Cherry
Photo: Patrick Montero

'Black Cherry'

This beautifully dark cherry tomato tastes sweet and rich. The skin is pink with an inky overlay when ripe.

'Paul Robeson'

A complex, robust flavor is good reason to grow this heirloom variety from Russia. The fruits are prone to cracking.

Paul Robeson
Photo: Patrick Montero
Blush
Photo: Christa Neu

'Blush'

Beautifully streaked, 3-inch fruits take on a pink blush when fully ripe. The remarkable flavor is sweet and fruity.

'Snow White'

Looking for something different? This pale cherry tomato offers a tropical fruitiness that sets it apart.

Snow White
Photo: Christa Neu
Amish Paste
Photo: Rob Cardillo

'Amish Paste'

Great for processing, these big meaty fruits have a full-bodied flavor that holds up well in salads and sandwiches, too.

'Jasper'

Loaded with disease resistance, this hybrid cherry tomato impressed us with its stamina and its bounty of tasty fruits

Jasper
Photo: Patrick Montero
Indigo Rose
Photo: Patrick Montero

'Indigo Rose'

This dark-skinned novelty was bred for high levels of anthocyanin pigments. It’s eye-catching, but its flavor can be bland.

'Brandy Boy'

Hybrid 'Brandy Boy' shares the exceptional flavor of its parent, 'Brandywine', but is earlier and more productive.

Brandy Boy
Photo: Patrick Montero
Kelloggs Breakfast Potato Leaf
Photo: Patrick Montero

'Kellogg's Breakfast Potato Leaf'

Grow this one for its monstrous fruits. The color of apricots, the fruits are mild and sweet with less acid than most.

Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, April/May 2014

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