The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Selecting Tantalizing Tomatoes

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

"Gardening – Cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes" is a sentimental plaque adorning my office wall. Professional therapy is of critical importance to many of us at one time or another but for gardeners the idea of planning and producing our own tomatoes is just the kick we need to get us through the winter doldrums.

Few things give me as much joy as the sight of a fresh new garden catalog in my snow covered mailbox. I drool over each picture of voluptuous vegetables and bodacious blooms. I know I am not alone in my love of homegrown tomatoes since they are the most commonly grown vegetable. As I digest each catalog page, I quickly bypass the Brussel sprouts so I can linger on the tantalizing tomato descriptions. I'm delighted to revisit my beloved plant friends and salivate over seductively new plant stars.

Every year I grow a new tomato or two but I always grow a couple "go to" favorites. If the newbies are a bust, I still have plenty of tomatoes. I look to All America Selections (AAS) yearly winners to help guide my choices in tomatoes as well as flowers and herbs. AAS, a not-for-profit organization of seed developers and producers, helps to entice gardeners to try new cultivars of flowers, vegetables and herbs.

A tomato winner for 2017 is 'Patio Choice Yellow'. If my memory serves me correctly, I have never described a tomato plant as a "sweet little plant". Generally, my tomato plant portrayals include gangly, rangy, flopsy, mopsy and disease-ridden disaster. 'Patio Choice Yellow' amends the commonly held notion that tomato plants should be kept out of sight and relegated to the backyard only to be visited when retrieving their edible orbs.

https://extension.illinois.edu/photolib/lib2211/2017TomatoPatioChoiceYellow%2D768x768.jpg

'Patio Choice Yellow' is a new compact, determinate tomato developed specifically for small spaces and container gardens. This AAS Winner produces very large yields, over 100 fruit on compact 18-inch tall plants. Fruits are mild flavored, bright yellow cherry tomatoes. They are the perfect tomato plants for urban or small space food gardens and even work well planted in a hanging basket for easier picking.

AAS has awarded several of these smaller patio type tomatoes such as 'Fantastico', 'Lizzano', and 'Terenzo that I think are worth investigation. 'Lizzano' for example is a vigorous semi-determinate tomato variety with a low growing, trailing habit excellent for growing in patio containers or hanging baskets. It would need some staking if grown in a garden. 'Lizzano' shows good resistance to late blight fungus. Expect abundant yields of high quality, bright red, baby cherry sized fruits.

'Juliet' won in 1999 and remains one of my favorites for a meaty small (but not too small) one-ounce size tomato. The plants are too big for hanging baskets but a nice garden size. 'Juliet' produces sweet red tomatoes in clusters like grapes. Just harvest the entire cluster. The fruit shape is an elongated cherry type, easy to hold for cutting and eating. The fruits resist the plague of skin cracking, common in many small tomatoes.

A couple of my "go to" larger sized tomatoes are also AAS winners. One of my all-time favorites 'Big Beef' was a 1994 winner. It's a nice personal size tomato. Perfect topped with a blob of cottage cheese or tuna salad. I have found 'Big Beef' to be very disease resistant in my garden and a reliable producer. My other "go to" tomatoes 'Celebrity' and 'Husky Gold' are also past AAS winners.

Vow to try something new in 2017. Thank you to All America Selections for information and pictures. Check out their website for more winners and for seed sources. http://all-americaselections.org/

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