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Just how do you choose which tomatoes to grow?

For me, the one thing I associate with Instagram is all those photos of the most amazing and crazy-coloured tomatoes. Some of them are just beautiful, so it’s easy to imagine just how many of those varieties are grown simply because of how they look. Obviously, though there are other ways to think about what varieties you might pick for your tomato growing. Although I confess, the early years of my tomato growing were all about what they looked like.

So what are some good things to consider when you are choosing which of the thousands of tomatoes available to you, that you should grow? I have a list of things I think about, so let me share it.

So firstly, let’s do the proper grown-up bit and we’ll run through the sensible choices in terms of what would grow well in our garden or greenhouse. Let’s talk about the season and how long that tomato will need.

How long is your season?

This might be a new one for some of you guys but don’t worry it’s actually a really simple idea that helps you to get an idea of which tomatoes might produce well in your garden and which might not. Think of it like this, each variety has different characteristics, we’ve already mentioned things like colours, but it can also be the difference in how long it takes for each variety of plant to grow and mature, produce fruit, and ripen that fruit. In very much the same way, we don’t all have the same amount of time (growing season) in our gardens. So choosing a variety that has a similar growing season to your garden can be really helpful.

So what exactly is a growing season? Well… there isn’t just one, to be honest. It’s more about what you are measuring it against. So in this instance, I’m talking about the growing season for tomatoes. I think of it like this.

Tomatoes generally like warmer temperatures, they are not hardy at all and won’t tolerate frost and freezing. They will grow at 10c (they like their temperatures to be consistent), however, to really thrive, produce and ripen those tomatoes, they want a minimum of 15c, again, consistently.

So I look at this and say, ok, looking back at the weather data for the past year, how many days can I confidently say were 10c or above, consistently? So not 10c one day and then 5c for 4 days… consistently. That’s what I count as the start of my growing season. The opposite end of this is about ripening that fruit that’s on the plant before the first frosts of Autumn come. So when does the weather stop giving us consistently 15c and above (remembering that this includes nighttime temperatures).

For me, looking at last year’s temperature records, my garden doesn’t see consistent temperatures of 10c or more until almost the second week of June and those temperatures start to drop after mid-August. It can be the last week of September when the temperatures are no longer consistently warm enough to ripen fruit. So I work that out for me as having a season of 82 days for tomatoes – roughly.

The next thing to do is to look at the variety you were thinking of growing and look for how many days to maturity, or many days the season is for those. You sometimes get this on the seed packet but I find I usually have to do a bit of an internet search.

Some of the varieties I have seeds for just now are

  • Black cherry which needs roughly 64 days
  • Marmande which needs 65 days
  • Sungold again 65 days
  • Barry’s crazy cherry needs a whopping 75 days, and
  • Teton De Venus which needs more than 80 days

So now armed with this info, I know that I could give most of them a good try and probably get great results. The Teton De Venus might be a push for me, but at least I’m armed with some useful information and I’m lucky enough to have a greenhouse.

Taste

The next thing I think about is what that tomato should taste like. It might come as a surprise to some new tomato growers but not all tomatoes have the same flavour. Some are sweet and some are acidic. Some are referred to as super sweet. It’s good to keep this in mind because you may get a recommendation for a tomato from someone who is very enthusiastic about how lovely it tastes, only to discover it’s not your cup of tea, so to speak. Kate and I have different tastes in tomatoes. I love acidic tomatoes and she likes sweet.

Usage

Another great thing to consider is what your plans are for those tomatoes. Do you want to use them in salads or are you planning to slice them up and put them on sandwiches? What about cooking? Do you plan to make lots of tomato sauce? The reason I ask is that what you plan t do with your lovely homegrown tomatoes can affect your choices too. You might not want little cherry-sized tomatoes to slice for sandwiches but you might want the little cherry ones to put in a lunch box or a salad.

If you are planning on making sauces then you might want to choose a variety that has a higher ratio of flesh to seed or pulp. All useful things to think about.

Looks

I already mentioned how these days you can get all sorts of colours, sizes and shapes of tomato. It really can be fun. But much like when I spoke about how you were going to use them, the colours might be one to think about too. From experience, you might not find tomato sauce made from green or “black” tomatoes to be as appealing as red. We made passata from a batch of purple tomatoes and it came out brown. Not our finest moment. Whereas if you are using tomatoes in salads or a tart, lots of lovely bright colours look great.

So before you jump in and pick the funky new varieties you see online, take 5 minutes to have a think about these 4 points and hopefully, it’ll help you make your decisions.

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