THE COASTAL GARDENER:Red, green, yellow, black: tomatoes

Tomatoes are consistently the most popular vegetable in American gardens. But for most of us, any old tomato won’t do.

Some like a red tomato, some a yellow one, an orange one or a purple one. Some prefer tomatoes tiny and sweet. Some want them huge and richly flavored. Some like tomatoes juicy, others like them dense and meaty. Fortunately, there are hundreds of tomatoes to choose from — a tomato for everyone.

If you’ve been growing tomatoes for a few years, you probably already have a couple of favorites. But don’t just plant the same variety year after year. Plant a variety of tomatoes — at least one beefsteak tomato, one slicing tomato, one cherry and one or two more just for fun. Since I started keeping track a few years ago, I’ve logged almost 200 varieties in my garden, but I still plant several new ones every year. Here’s what I think are the best varieties for flavor, production, vigor and disease resistance.

Momotaro: This is still the best-tasting, red-slicing tomato — period. Introduced to gardeners from Japan, momotaro has achieved nearly cult status among those who plant homegrown tomatoes. The fruit isn’t very large, but the production is heavy and the flavor is the best, rich and sweet with the perfect balance of sugars and acids.

Sungold and suncherry: The tastiest and sweetest of all the cherry tomatoes. At least one of these should be grown in every garden. It amazes me that people still plant older varieties like sweet 100. Sungold is a golden yellow, suncherry is bright red, but other than color, the two are nearly indistinguishable. Both are fast producers and vigorous growers. Give them a sturdy cage. Don’t waste your money on those $3, two-foot models. Get ready for the harvest. A couple of years ago, I picked more than 1,200 fruit from a single plant!

Marianna’s peace: If you’ve tried other big beefsteak varieties like brandywine, mortgage lifter and others only to give up because of poor production, ugly fruit or poor disease tolerance, then it’s time to grow Marianna’s peace. This is an heirloom variety that was introduced just a couple of years ago and originally sold for $5 a seed. It is difficult to find, but the fruit are huge, well-shaped and have a flavor that is truly what a tomato should be. Rich, meaty and full-bodied. The best beefsteak type tomato.

Stupice: If you just can’t get the knack of growing tomatoes, have tried every year and only getting a few lopsided, leathery fruit then you haven’t grown stupice. This has to be the most durable and reliable tomato on the market today. The fruits aren’t very large, but the flavor is outstanding and the production huge. If you can’t grow stupice, then head to the grocery store — you should give up gardening.

Aunt Ruby’s German green: If you’re squeamish, eat this one with your eyes closed. Yes, it’s green when ripe. But if you can get over the thought of a green tomato, the flavor will win you over. Not a heavy producer, but each huge fruit will be cherished. The best-tasting tomato I’ve ever grown (I know I already said that, but who’s checking?).

Black cherry: A good grower with a sweet, rich, complex flavor that adds a new color to your cherry tomato options.

Noir charboneuse: There are a lot of “black” tomatoes on the market now, and almost all of them are good. I especially like the salty, smoky flavor of black tomatoes for salsa. Noir charboneuse is outstanding. If you can’t find it, try black from Tula, black prince or black krim — all are good.

Green grape: Another fun variety with great flavor. Perfectly round cherry tomatoes that are green when ripe. The juicy fruit are plentiful and perfect for snacking on — not too sweet to spoil the flavor of salads and other foods.

Hawaiian pineapple: There are several “yellow” tomatoes on the market now, but I’ve never found one with great tomato flavor. Hawaiian pineapple, however, has a wonderful, sweet, tropical flavor. When sliced, it’s a wonder just to look at, a marbled blend of golden yellow, with blotches and streaks of red. A very productive heirloom with large, beefsteak-size fruit.

Garden peach: If you want to experiment a little, this heirloom variety is a good candidate. Garden peach isn’t like other tomatoes. The small, light yellow fruit is slightly fuzzy to the touch and soft. But the flavor is delicate, sweet and fruit-like at the same time. A gourmet variety.

Why not grow one of each?


When are you going to give us some details about the upcoming garden tours?


Costa Mesa

Don’t worry, I won’t let you down. The first local tour isn’t until May 3. Check this column on April 27. That’s when I’ll give you all the locations, dates and contact information.

  • ASK RON your toughest gardening questions, and the expert nursery staff at Roger’s Gardens will come up with an answer. Please include your name, phone number and city, and limit queries to 30 words or fewer. E-mail, or send to Plant Talk at Roger’s Gardens, 2301 San Joaquin Hills Road, Corona del Mar, CA 92625.

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