Life is Just a Bowl of Cherry...Tomatoes!By Jill M. Nicolaus (critterologist)
July 24, 2008
Most "cherry" varieties are great producers, and one or two plants will probably give you all the little tomatoes you care to pick. With all the different varieties, I have a very hard time narrowing down my choices at seed starting time. Everybody has favorites to recommend, and there are so many fun and tasty-sounding names to consider.
Last year, I ended up with over a dozen different varieties. I made a special cherry tomato patch at one end of our little orchard, and told the neighbors to help themselves. The birds and bunnies helped themselves, too! And we all got to sample a lot of different tomatoes.
This year, I was a little more restrained, but I still had a lot of plants to find room for. I love having a rainbow selection of red, orange, yellow, and black varieties. At least one grape-shaped variety is a must, as are tiny, intensely flavored currant tomatoes. Let me introduce you to some of my favorites.
‘Dr. Carolyn' is an ivory colored cherry tomato that ripens to a delicious golden color. I have a friend who grows over a hundred tomato varieties each year, and this is the only cherry tomato she wants in her garden.
‘SunGold' is a hybrid yellow cherry that takes first prize as the sweetest tomato I've ever tasted. People either love them "like candy" or hate them for not "tasting like a real tomato." When fully ripe, they're almost orange.
‘Black Cherry' has the same sweet, complex flavor as some of the full-size black tomatoes. Its rich burgundy hue is a special accent. This one doesn't seem to be as productive as some and can be a little hesitant about germinating, so sow a few extra seeds.
‘Elfin' and ‘Sprite' grape tomatoes are both determinate red varieties that are wonderful for containers. I grow these every year, as grape tomatoes are the ones people most often ask me for when I mention that I have extra seedlings.
‘Wild Cherry' is a tiny currant-type tomato with wonderfully intense flavor. I want these in my garden every year. Thanks to their habit of self-sowing, that's easy! I've heard these may be particularly good cross-pollinators, so I've planted them away from my main tomato garden area.
‘Green Grape' is a tasty novelty and a good introduction to green-when-ripe tomatoes. It takes a little practice to learn the feel of a ripe one, the slight "give" that tells you their mild, sweet flavor has reached its peak.
'Tumbling Tom' is my favorite variety for baskets and containers. It comes in both yellow and red colors, and it has the best "true tomato flavor" of any cherry variety I know. I've yet to start too many seedlings of this variety, as I can always find a good nook for one more plant.
'Sweet Million' is one among hundreds of varieties of round, red tomatoes. Everybody seems to have a favorite red cherry, and I've tried a bunch of them. Many are excellent, but I'm not sure there are any I like better than this old standby, an improved strain of my childhood classic ‘Sweet 1000'.
Growing Cherry Tomatoes
If you're starting them from seed, consider starting cherry varieties only 6 weeks before setting them out (as opposed to 8 weeks for other types). They tend to germinate quickly and grow enthusiastically under lights.
Cherry tomatoes grow equally well in the ground or in containers. Indeterminate varieties, whose vines keep growing longer until frost, may need support. I often let them sprawl and meander around the edge of a perennial bed. They may not produce as well that way as if they were caged, but they still provide all the little tomatoes I care to pick (and then some). Like larger-fruited tomatoes, cherry tomatoes will do best in containers of at least 5 gallons in size.
If your sunshine is a little skimpy for regular tomatoes, try cherry tomatoes. As a group, they seem tough, and they'll produce despite all sorts of adverse conditions. Currant tomatoes do particularly well in partial shade. In a partly shaded spot, you may get no fruit at all from a beefsteak tomato, but you can still harvest fruit by the handful from a cherry tomato plant.
Whether you grow a single plant of ‘Sweet Million' or a rainbow collection of a dozen different varieties, I hope you'll save a corner of your garden for fun, delicious cherry tomatoes!
Thanks to David_Paul for the great photo of 'Black Cherry' from PF. Other photos by Jill Nicolaus.