Tomatoes are truly the most important crop we grow. Not just because we love to eat them - but because they are also the main ingredient in many of the canning jars we fill our pantry with each year from the garden. Salsa, pasta and pizza sauce, tomato juice, ketchup and sun-dried tomatoes are all canned each year from our tomato crop - providing us year round with great tasting food from the garden.
So what are some great varieties to grow? And what types do best for roasting, canning or eating fresh? Well, here is a little info to help you through tomato land:
Heirloom Varieties: The Perfect Fresh Tomato
There is a big push on today for heirloom tomatoes - and for good reason - they have amazing flavor, taste and texture. In general, heirloom tomatoes are old-time tomato seed varieties that are open pollinated, have been passed down from generation to generation - and have unique and special characteristics. Some of the more popular - like Brandywine, Black Cherry, Mr Stripey, Green Zebra and Lemon Boy - are grown and coveted by many gardeners for their intense flavor. They are the perfect fresh tomato for salads, hamburgers - or to slice and eat!
There are some drawbacks however to be aware of when growing them. They are not going to be as hardy as most of today's hybrid varieties that have been bred for higher yields and disease, wilt and bug resistance. Some gardeners who are new to growing heirloom varieties become disappointed when they plant a whole area of heirloom tomatoes - only to see them produce fewer tomatoes and die off earlier due to disease.
If you want to can and preserve in larger quantities - you will also want to plant some of today's newer varieties that have some disease resistance and higher yields. As an example - our La Roma sauce tomato that we plant for canning our salsa and sauces may be a modern hybrid, but organically grown, the taste is still light years above anything we could ever buy "fresh" in a store or supermarket.
Here are some of the hybrid and resistant varieties that we grow for canning and preserving:
The Celebrity and Rutgers are two great choices for a slicing tomato. They seem to always have perfectly round fruits that fill up a bun or sandwich. They also both have a great juice to flesh ratio. The Big Beef and Beef Steak varieties do well for slicing too.
Everyone knows the "cherry" and "plum" tomatoes that have become so popular on salads, or for simply popping in your mouth to enjoy. There are hundreds of versions, but the "cherry 100" and "sweet 100" have always performed well for us.
Another favorite among tomato aficionado's is the Campari Tomato. It is a little larger than the cherry or plum types (about golf ball size), but it is super juicy with a high sugar content for great flavor.
We tend to grow our cherry and plumb tomatoes in large pots on the patio and keep them out of the garden. For one, they make a great potted plant and it makes it easy to pick them for salads or to eat. Second - the plants grow so large and produce so much - they are hard to keep control of in the garden. They also tend to overpopulate the ground below with hundreds of seeds that keep coming back the next year - making weeding and issue - and planted pots eliminate that.
If you do become overrun with a supply of them - they are great to add to your juicing operation. Although small, the high liquid and sugar content make them good for juicing.
Tomatoes For Tomato Juice:
Speaking of juice, we make and certainly go through a lot - usually to the tune of a couple of quarts a week year round. You can certainly use any tomato variety when juicing - but our favorite is to use a mixture of La Roma and Celebrity Tomatoes to create the perfect juice. The Celebrity contains a lot of juice and it is balanced with the thicker meaty style of the La Romas. The result, a really great tasting juice with good texture.
Sauces and Salsa's:
We can a lot of sauce and a lot of salsa - and for us, as we stated earlier - nothing can beat the La Roma tomato as the main ingredient. The plants are hardy, with thick and meaty fruits that cook down into a great sauce. The meaty texture also lends itself to a great salsa tomato. The chunks stay firm and meaty. Our La Roma Plants are big producers too - we grow 24 plants and usually harvest a good 30 to 40 pounds of tomatoes per plant.
You can see our recipes here for our Picante Salsa and Pasta Sauce.
Success In Growing Tomatoes:
You can check out our previous post on how to grow great tomatoes - but in general - tomatoes love sun and warm humid nights. They also need a fair amount of water - so make sure they are getting a good 1" of water per week. As an extra tip - make sure to add a few crushed egg shells to every planting hole. The added calcium will help to avoid black rot and wilt on your tomatoes throughout the season.
Happy Gardening - And Enjoy Those Tomatoes!
Mary and Jim
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