Easy to grow and delicious to eat, tomatoes are a popular choice with many amateur gardeners. There are many different types of tomato and it can be difficult to know the differences between them. With advice from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Awards of Garden Merit 2011, here is a brief guide to the main tomato varieties as well as some general advice on sowing, growing and harvesting. (image source: chefhermes.com)
Popular types of tomatoes
There are thousands of different kinds of tomatoes, with names as colourful as the fruit itself (yes, botanically-speaking tomatoes, like aubergines and cucumbers, are classed as fruit). The first distinction to make is the simplest: tomatoes grow in one of two ways, cordon or bush. Cordon tomatoes grow tall on a vine, and will need a stake to stay upright. Bush tomatoes don’t usually need to be staked and live in bushes, closer to the ground. Of standard round tomatoes, two popular varieties with a lovely taste are Vanessa and Outdoor Girl.
Apart from the common round tomatoes, these are the other main types:
Beef tomatoes: Known as Beefsteak tomatoes in the US, these are large and juicy, and taste great in sandwiches. They tend to have a kidney-bean shape and thin skin, which makes them impractical for mass production. A popular type of beef tomato is the Brandywine.
Cherry tomatoes: Small, round and very easy to pop in your mouth whole, these are a very popular option for amateur gardeners. Often used in salads, two of the most highly rated types of cherry tomatoes in terms of flavour are Sungold and Gardener’s Delight.
Plum tomatoes: Usually oblong, and with comparatively few seed compartments, this type is often used for cooking and in tomato sauces. Smaller plum tomatoes, similar in size to many cherry tomatoes, are known as grape tomatoes. Floridity and Olivade are varieties of plum tomato known for their delicious flavours.
The best advice for a novice tomato grower is to follow the instructions that come on the seed packet. As a general rule thumb, tomatoes are best sown between March and April, planted between April and June and harvested from July to October. If you have a greenhouse, you can sow the seeds as early as January, provided it is heated. In an unheated greenhouse, it is best to wait until late February. Make sure to keep the soil or compost evenly moist throughout the growing period. Dry soil which is then flooded can cause the tomatoes to crack. Another problem that can occur is tomato blight. This causes the fruit and foliage to rot, and can happen in very rainy conditions. If it looks as though it is going to be a wet summer, it is a good idea to apply a protective spray in June. Provided you do this and take good overall care of the plants, and you are regular and even in your watering, the tomatoes will be ripe and full of colour come harvesting time.