Who doesn’t love a ripe, juicy tomato?
We have to say that the best tomatoes are grown right here in New Jersey. The state is famous for them. New Jersey’s nickname is “The Garden State” and despite all the jokes, we do have a lot of farmland. Our climate and soil is ideal for growing tomatoes.
Tomatoes became an important crop because of logistics. Tomatoes that ship well typically are picked early or are varieties that won’t bruise easily. These often have little flavor. Add the fact that most of the giant commercial farms are located in California and you find that the bulk of tomatoes in the store are simply not worth buying.
We are near the metropolitan areas of New York City, Philadelphia, Wilmington, down-state Connecticut and New Jersey itself. Every county in New Jersey is considered an urban area so there’s a large market within a relatively short distance. We literally have millions of people within 200 miles just waiting for those juicy fruits.
And yes – Tomatoes are fruits and not vegetables.
Hybrid vs. Heirloom
By definition, heirloom tomatoes are varieties that have been grown for at least three generations while avoiding cross-pollination from other varieties. Hybrid tomatoes are created by growers who cross-pollinate multiple varieties to bring out their best traits in one tomato. (Do not confuse “hybrid” and “GMO.”)
Hybrid tomatoes may be developed to improve taste, durability for shipping, drought tolerance, higher yield, disease resistance and other desirable traits. They tend to be consistent in size, color, shape and the time it takes to produce fruit. Pollination has to be controlled to retain those traits. If it is not controlled, subsequent generations of the plants often lose the traits bred into them and they may even produce sterile seeds. For the home gardener who likes to keep seeds to plant the next year, this can be a difficult task.
Popular hybrids are
Beefsteak: Ramapo, Patio, Better Boy, Big Boy, Early girl
Plum: Plum Regal, SuperSauce, Juliet, Shimmer Hybrid
Cherry: Sungold Hybrid, Sweet Million, Cherry Bomb, Napa Grape, Sweet Mojo
Heirloom varieties are produced through “Open Pollination.” This means that the plants are pollinated by insects and will produce the same traits generation after generation. This makes it easy for the home gardener to save seeds for next year and expect the same quality as in the original plants. However there may be variety with in size, color, shape and the time it takes to produce fruit. Many people prefer heirloom varieties since they often have superior taste to hybrids and they are normally less expensive to purchase.
Popular heirlooms are
Beefsteak: Pink Brandywine (this author’s favorite,) Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Mr. Stripey, German Johnson, Yellow Zebra
Plum: San Marzano, Roma, Principe Borghese, Red Plum
Cherry: Black Cherry, Bumblebee, Lemon Drop, A Grappoli D'Inverno
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Determinate varieties will produce their fruit within a period of a couple of weeks. Plants put out blossoms and then tomatoes will appear. This will determine the entire harvest. If you want a large number of tomatoes all at once, choose determinate varieties. This is great for canning.
Indeterminate varieties will produce tomatoes as long as the weather allows. The more you pick, the more new shoots and blossoms will appear. You will have tomatoes all season long.
So get ready for summer. Now is the time to start your plants indoors for an early harvest!