WHAT COLOR IS YOUR TOMATO?
It used to be easy to figure out what color tomato to plant. No, they are not just red anymore. Now you have a choice: red, yellow, striped, green, orange, even black. And those colors in many cases taste differently to most palates.
Let’s start with the easiest first. Red beefsteaks are by far the most popular: big, red, juicy and flavorful. The plant can grow until it is knocked down by cold weather. There are hundred to choose from. Ditto for its siblings, cherry tomatoes.
Now it gets interesting. A yellow beefsteak tomato will lend color to your table but usually a milder flavor than its red cousin. It is no less sweet but much more subtle in its flavor profile. A favorite orange cherry tomato is ‘Sungold.’ I always feel like I have taken a spoonful of sugar when I eat one of those! You might find yourself looking at a tomato called ‘Pink Lady’. She’s a beauty, no doubt about it. The plants are prolific and the fruit is great for slicing as well as canning. If you leave the fruit on too long, however, it will ripen further into red but then what’s the point of having a pink tomato? Green tomatoes are intended to be harvested at that color, not to be confused with late season under-ripe tomatoes you may find yourself frying. Their flavor profile can vary widely so you need to read the label or use your search engine to set your expectations correctly. A favorite dark skinned variety is ‘Black Krim’. It’s one of the beefsteak varieties so it is sizeable. Flavor and good balance of acid and sugar are what you can expect from that one. Be aware that it is thin skinned so don’t let it stay on the vine too long to give hungry birds a chance to peck at it.
What about paste tomatoes, those oval shaped varieties that taste better when cooked? Generally, paste tomatoes are less juicy and more dense with fewer seeds. ‘Amish Paste’, ‘Roma’, and the revered ‘San Marzano’ are only a few. They are all worth growing for high quality, flavorful home made sauces.
You can grow your tomatoes in containers if you don’t have the space for earth beds. There are dozens of options these days. Just look for some key words on the label like “patio,” “bush,” or even the word “container.” Garden centers want you to be successful so ask them to help you find the right ones.
No matter which tomato you choose you still have to grow it right. That means starting with the right soil profile amended with a quality organic compost like Coast of Maine Quoddy Lobster Compost, providing at least six hours of direct sun, regular watering early in the day (one inch of water/week), and fertilizing regularly with a tomato specific fertilizer that contains the all-important micro-nutrients for strong, healthy plants. One of the most important things you can do is mulch your tomatoes well to keep the moisture even and the soil cool.
Insects and diseases will find your tomatoes more irresistible than you. Your watchful eye is the first step to preventing those problems. A regular walk-about to inspect your plants maybe with a cup of morning coffee or evening wine should keep everything under control.
Written by Lorraine Ballato