A Choice of Tomatoes
|For home gardeners,
there is a huge
range of tomato cultivars from which to choose.
In the Penn State Extension office in Chambersburg and at the Penn
State Southeast Ag Research and Extension Center in Lancaster County
scientists have been running variety trials on tomatoes since 2000.
They've evaluated more than 400 varieties across the complete spectrum
of tomato types in that time. Every year, they examine 30 to 70
varieties, looking at taste, production, disease resistance, ease of
training and appearance.
Following are some varieties recommended by Penn State Extension
horticulture educator Steve Bogash for the coming season, along with his comments about
-- Sakura. "This very early variety was a favorite of our tasters and
produced huge numbers of firm cherry tomatoes."
--Red Pearl. "Excellent flavor, tender skin, high production and
moderate disease resistance made Red Pearl another top pick from our
2011 trial program. This variety has good red color and is highly
resistant to cracking."
--Five Star. "2011 was the year of the grape tomato in our trials
program. Five Star was another great producer with good-looking,
well-flavored fruit. This one has very few seeds and is highly
resistant to cracking."
--Maglia Rosa. "This is a very unusual variety, as the fruit is an
elongate, cherry type that is mottled pink. Our tasters describe the
flavor as ketchup-like. In both 2010 and 2011, the plants produced for
only about five weeks, but they did make a lot of fruit that was well
worth the garden space."
--Sun Gold. "No tomato
a mention of Sun Gold. This yellow-orange tomato is the candy of the
tomato world. Production is high, the plants are moderately resistant
to disease, and the fruit taste is awesome, but the fruit crack like
mad. Every gardener should have one or two of these plants, so there is
something to eat while gardening."
--Favorita. "This variety is so good that we retired its number several
years ago and only grow it for our own use now. Very productive with
deep red cherry fruit."
--Matt's Black Cherry. "Deep, dark color with a pronounced tomato
flavor that is memorable. Once you taste this one, you will ask for it
--BrandyBoy. "The related Brandywine tomato long has been heralded as
the best-tasting tomato in numerous trial programs, but each plant
produces only a few fruit, which are very inconsistent in size and
shape, and the plant is highly susceptible to diseases.
"BrandyBoy tomatoes were introduced several years ago, and they
immediately took top honors among red, slicing types in our program.
When gardeners ask what single tomato to grow, this is the one.
BrandyBoy is highly productive with large, pink, great-tasting fruit
that taste nearly identical to Brandywine."
--BHN 589. "BHN are the letters used by a tomato breeder in Florida who
primarily provides seeds to a commercial-grower cooperative. Don't let
the letters and numbers discourage you from growing what are usually
excellent varieties of hybrid tomatoes. BHN 589 has become a standard
for many regional tomato growers as the plants produce copious amounts
of great-tasting, good-looking, medium-sized, red tomatoes."
--Scarlet Red. "Like BHN 589, Scarlet Red is primarily a commercial
tomato, but it makes the crossover into the home garden extremely well.
This is easily the deepest red tomato that we've trialed, and it has
that perfect sugar/acid balance that often is referred to as 'real
Production hint: only remove about three suckers, or you really will
--Big Beef. "This variety has been around for a long time, and it still
belongs on a top-tomatoes list. These are big, great-tasting fruit that
run on the soft side. The plants are very robust."
--Celebrity. "For years, Celebrity was the standard red that we
compared others against in our trials program. While it has been
surpassed by some of these other varieties, it is still a great
producer of medium-sized, good-flavored, round, red tomatoes."
--Defiant. "This is one of a new generation of tomatoes resistant to
late blight. Somewhat smaller fruit, but big on flavor and production."
--Pineapple. "While there really aren't any great yellow/orange/red
tomatoes, Pineapple is the one that provides the most consistent
production and good flavor. It's soft and cracks readily but is the
best of this type that we've trialed. Pineapple makes an excellent
addition to homemade tomato juice."
--Mortgage Lifter (Radiator Charlie). "Excellent flavor and high
production make Mortgage Lifter the No. 1 large, pink heirloom. I
recommend it to growers. High production and moderate disease
resistance separate this variety from most heirlooms."
makes relatively small fruit at 5 to
8 ounces, but the production is good and the flavor excellent."
--Marianna's Peace. "This variety originally came into our program as
one of those sample packets included with your order. The fruit are
very large -- often more than a pound -- pink and very flavorful. The
plants are enormous and require very tall supports. Even after every
other heirloom has started to fade in the fall, Marianna's Peace will
keep on producing."
--Stupice. "A lot of tomatoes claim to be early, but most don't taste
like much. Stupice is the one early tomato that tastes like a real,
mid-season tomato. The fruit are small at only 3 to 6 ounces, but they
will beat most other tomatoes onto your plate by two to three weeks."
--Bush Early Girl. "Without a doubt, Bush Early Girl is the 'top of the
heap' among slicing tomatoes that you can grow in a container. A single
plant will produce a huge number of great-tasting fruit. Be sure your
container is at least 14 inches across (bigger is better) and feed them
well to get the most from these robust plants."
--BushSteak. "Second only to Bush Early Girl is BushSteak. These plants
produce heavy crops of large, meaty fruit about a week after you start
to pick Bush Early Girl. Again, use large containers and feed them
--Sweet 'N Neat (Red, Scarlet and Yellow). "We've looked at a lot of
container-type cherry tomatoes, and while most varieties are at least
OK, the entire Sweet 'N Neat series produces copious amounts of
delicious fruit on very compact plants. You can grow them as hanging
baskets or in ground pots. Plant single plants in 8-inch pots or three
plants in 14-inch pots."
"In 2013, we evaluated just paste and Roma-type tomatoes as we had not
included many of them in earlier trials," Bogash said. "While the
trials were targeted at commercial producers, the two tastings held in
the summer of 2013 identified several paste-types that rival the best
slicers in flavor."
Paste. "This was the number one flavored tomato in both
tastings. It had deep tomato flavor and due to the high solids would be
great on sandwiches. This is a very large, indeterminate plant that
requires very tall (7-foot-plus) trellising."
-Striped Roma. "This is second among best-tasting tomatoes from the
2013 program, with a beautiful, striped skin and deep-red flesh. While
indeterminate, a bit more manageable than Amish Paste."
--Cassidy's Folly. "While No. 7 out of 24 to our tasting panels, it
still had great flavor, good production and a deep, red-interior that
caught our attention at the first slice. Although it is similar to
Striped Roma in that it has a striped skin, it is a narrower fruit."
Gardeners can obtain
some of these seeds from a local garden center, but some
varieties will be more difficult to locate.
More information, including a list of seed companies that supply seeds
to the Penn State Extension variety trials program, is available
Report 2011: The Best of the Penn State Tomato Trials,.
and Tomato Plants and Seeds
Tomato Festival Cookbook
& Garden Center
and Garden Tools