CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Best Tomatoes I’ve Ever Grown

Posted by: Susan Perry, Master Gardener in Larimer County

“Best” is such a challenging word.  I guess most people would think about the best-tasting tomatoes they’ve ever grown.  To give that perspective justice, you’d have to be the type who tries new varieties every year.  That’s never been me …. I find something I like and stay loyal.  Of course, this approach has its pros (always a known, enjoyable quantity) and cons (maybe I’ve missed out).  Take ice cream.  From a little kid, it’s always been mint chocolate chip for me.  I’ve tried other things but mint chocolate chip has remained my favorite.  Fast forward to adulthood here in Ft. Collins when Coldstone Creamery opened.  They had mint but it was too minty, so I branched out to coffee with Heath Bar bits on top.  YUM YUM!

Back to tomatoes.  For years, it was Early Girl.  They worked pretty consistently in Colorado.  Then,
Early Girl tomato
(Photo courtesy of Rutgers University)
it seemed every year there was always something that went wrong.  A few years ago, my next door neighbor (Carrie) gave me some Brandywine and Purple Cherokees she’d grown from seed.  We tried them, loved them, and they had survived a nasty whitefly infestation that decimated the Early Girls, and a Mortgage Lifter.  Both Brandywine and Purple Cherokee had great flavor and were great for BLTs.  They became my number one for pure flavor.  (Remember, I haven’t tried hundreds of varieties so they seem perfect to me.)  But they were a bit juicy for canning, so last year we also planted Roma plum tomatoes, which were quite good for canning and very prolific.

Purple Cherokee....or Cherokee Purple
No matter how you say it, they are tasty!
I’m sure there are many out there who have experimented with other varieties who could suggest other things for me to try.  And I’d give them a shot, so don’t hold back.  But it really wasn’t just flavor that made Brandywine and Purple Cherokee “best” for me.  “Best” was, thanks to Carrie, when I branched out and started growing my own tomato plants from seed.  When growing open-pollinated tomatoes, I could collect seeds from tomatoes I’d grown, save them, and use them the following year.  So this worked well with the Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, and Roma.

But collecting the seed in the summer, starting seedlings in the spring, transplanting them outside over Memorial Day weekend, and watching them grow all summer is what has made for the “best” experience.   First, it reminded me that things are often far less daunting than one might imagine.  Growing from scratch also gave me the satisfaction of knowing what had happened to my tomato plants every step of the way.  No more hoping that the store where I bought the plants knew to bring them in when nighttime temps were below 50 degrees.  No more waiting till Memorial Day so that all the plants that had been exposed to cold nighttime temps had already been sold.  And last, I learned a bunch of new things – exactly how to collect the seeds, hot to pot-up the seedlings to prevent them from becoming too leggy, and taking advantage of all warm days in the spring to put my seedlings outside when temps were above 50 degrees and bringing them in at night.  Which all goes to prove that you can teach an old broad new tricks!  


  1. My favorite is Celebrity and Sweet 100!!!

  2. I love tomatoes! The last few years I have been growing: black cherry, yellow pear and a more recent discovery- lemon drop. All delicious and they thrive (in my greenhouse)

  3. I like Dester, SunGold, Japanese Black Trifele, Green Zebra, and Stupice, and of course, Early Girl (indeterminate, not determinate).

  4. I love my San Marzanos for paste and my unnamed cherry tomatoes make the best sauce, surprisingly. I've had fabulous Hillbillies, but then some years they are just ok. Not sure on those. Carmellos are another favorite for eating around here.

  5. I grow 25-30 varieties per year-16th year coming up. I counted my packages of seeds this year and I'm up to 70 varieties. Seeds as old as 12 years have sprouted without a peep. I emphasize something each year; last year ...stripes. My favorites are Jaune du Flamme, Trifele, Pruden's Purple, Brandywine, Gold Medal, Aunt Ruby's green. I grow Marzano but have heard good things about Opalka-for sauce. I like orange banana but it gets lots of blossom end rot. White wonder, is a wonder. My Purple Cherokees get spotted wilt virus every year, same for black krim. To the point I don't want to grow em. But I do (black from tula or black instead). I trellis them on spirals and grow them in clumps of 3-4. Mar 15th under lights. Cold is okay, tomatoes are tougher than you think. Always, always innoculate with mycorhizzzzlllsss.

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