Summer in the South means it’s time for that traditional delicacy – the tomato sandwich – a big juicy slice of ripe tomato on white bread with a little mayo. What could be more delicious! Not only do people love to eat tomatoes but they love to grow them. The tomato is the favorite vegetable grown in backyard gardens. And, it’s hard to top the health benefits of eating tomatoes – you can lower your risk for heart disease and certain cancers. Did you know that tomatoes are botanically a fruit but are legally defined by the Supreme Court as a vegetable? Who knew!
There are so many varieties of tomatoes to grow that new gardeners often are stymied on what to plant! Tomato experts suggest you choose from a selection of cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes and hybrids.
Cherry tomatoes (less than 1 inch in size) are a great place to start since they are easy to grow and thrive when planted in containers. They are disease and drought resistant. If you want to get your kids interested in eating and growing vegetables, give them their own pot with a cherry tomato seedling. Matt’s Wild is a very small and sweet cherry tomato that kids will pop in their mouths and eat like candy! Yellow Pear, another favorite, looks like a tiny teardrop in a bright yellow color!
Heirloom tomatoes are treasured favorites that have been grown for generations and handed down in families. You may have fond memories of your grandparents meticulously saving seeds from their favorite tomato varieties. Heirlooms are open-pollinated and maintain their own characteristics from year to year. Most people agree that heirlooms are grown for their superior taste. But they may not look as conventional and “pretty” as those you see in the grocery store, and some have more disease and insect problems. Favorite heirlooms include Brandywine, Black Krim, Arkansas Traveler, Goliath, Aunt Ruby’s German Green and Cherokee Purple.
Hybrid tomatoes are bred for certain traits like disease resistance, size, flavor, early maturity, long shelf live or higher yield. They are created when two different plants are cross pollinated to produce a hybrid that features the best traits of both parent plants. A hybrid is not a genetically modified plant! Hybrid tomatoes have a more pleasing and uniform shape, like you see at the grocery store. Some favorite hybrids include Better Boy, Celebrity, Juliet and Early Girl.
Tomato-Tasting Party at Peachtree City Farmers Market
If you’d like to tickle your taste-buds and sample some tried-and-true heirloom favorites as well as some newer hybrids, don’t miss the old-fashioned Tomato-Tasting Party at the Peachtree City Farmers Market on July 15 from 9 a.m. to noon. Down to Earth Organics Association is hosting the event and club members will be bringing cut-up samples of their favorite tomatoes for attendees at the market to taste. Fayette Woman Magazine is sponsoring and donating prizes for the “Best Cherry Tomato,” “Best Heirloom Tomato,” “Best Other-than-Heirloom Tomato” and a prize for the “Biggest Tomato” by weight.
If you get inspired by the Tomato-Tasting Party, you can still plant tomatoes now for a fall harvest. Just pick a variety that is heat tolerant and has a shorter ripening time (80 days or less) to harvest. Some favorites you can grow now include Sungold (golden cherry tomato), Early Wonder (heirloom) and Early Girl (hybrid).
For more information on growing tomatoes, go to: extension.uga.edu/publications and search for Georgia Home Grown Tomatoes by Robert Westerfield.