With the growing interest in heirloom tomatoes, seedlings of more varieties are showing up at the garden center. I’ve been growing tomatoes from seed for a while, and I tried many varieties long before seedlings of them were available at the corner. Here, I rate the tomatoes I’ve tried on a scale from one to five trowels.
La Roma (2 trowels). This is a commonly available tomato that you can find almost anywhere in May: the grocery store, the corner hardware store, and Sears. It’s a hybrid Italian plum that offers high yields. The downside of this tomato, and it’s a big one, is that its flavor is flat. In fact, it’s the variety sold as a plum tomato in many supermarkets, and it tastes like a bit like a (high-quality) supermarket tomato. Use these in sauces, for cooking, or for canning and freezing.
Health Kick (5 trowels). This hybrid Italian plum tomato has yields nearly as high as La Roma, but it is much more flavorful. It’s bred to be high in lycophene, purported to have health benefits. Hence the name. Use as you would La Roma. If I can find it, this is my default choice for an Italian plum tomato.
Sweet 100, Sweet Million (5 trowels). These cherry type tomatoes are hybrids that produce small, sweet cherry tomatoes. I prefer sweet million, which is harder to find but sweeter. Sweet million is sold by Park Seed, and you may need to start seedlings indoors in early spring. My daughter loves these sweet cherry tomatoes.
Yellow Pear (4 trowels). If you’re looking for a yellow cherry tomato, this heirloom is a good choice. The small fruits are yellow, as the name would suggest, and slightly elongated. These tomatoes have a mild tomato flavor and are slightly acidic.
Juliet (3 trowels). While Juliet is sold as a cherry tomato, its fruits tend to be slightly larger than those that most people visualize when they think of a cherry tomato. The red fruits on the Juliet tomato are elongated and about 1 ½ to 2 inches long. This tomato type offers good flavor and high yields.
Big Beef (2 trowels). These are the classic beefsteak tomato. Yields are good, for a beefsteak tomato, but they are lower than for other types. They taste a bit like supermarket tomatoes.
Peron Sprayless (4 trowels). If you can find these tomatoes at the garden center, buy them. Otherwise, grow these tomatoes from seed. This is a very flavorful round heirloom tomato with moderate to good yields. The 2- to 3-inch fruits have lots of good tomato flavor. They are orange.
Brandywine (2 trowels). I’m not crazy about this popular heirloom tomato, which is now available at my corner garden center. When I grew brandywine several years ago, my yields were terrible. The fruits did taste fantastic, but the second (and last) year I grew it, I only got 3 or 4 fruits on each plant. My brandywine tomato plants also suffered from blossom end rot and other disease problems.