Find out which tomatoes grew best for us in 2020! Winter time on the farm means that I am reflecting on the past season and making plans for next year, rating the varieties we grew of different crops. As you plan your farm or home garden, and peruse seed catalogs, I hope you find insights from our 2020 growing season valuable. The first crop I am posting a review of is tomatoes, a favorite of gardeners everywhere, as nothing can beat the taste of a fresh-picked, locally grown tomato. If you have a favorite tomato variety, let me know, and maybe I can grow some starts for you to purchase at our spring plant sale in May.
2020 was a great tomato season here in Eastern Connecticut. Consider the factors affecting our tomato crop this year as you read this review. My farm is just north of Norwich, CT near the Rhode Island border, in the little town of Oneco, CT. We are in zone 6b, with an average last frost date of May 16, and an average first frost date of October 8. The tomatoes loved the hot and dry weather. We did not have to worry so much about tomatoes cracking due to a sudden, heavy rain storm. We did have one row of tomatoes that repeatedly was chewed on by deer that ended up stunted and not producing much. The deer were especially bad this year, relying on our irrigated crops for their food source as the drought dried up the forest. Despite deer damage on one part of the farm, our main tomato growing areas thrived. Another factor affecting our harvest this year was a frost in late May that delayed planting, and a tropical storm in late July that knocked many green tomatoes off of the vines. Our harvests were a little later than usual, but abundant. Here I will rank the tomato varieties we grew from our favorite to our least favorite. We grew three varieties of cherry tomatoes in our unheated hoop house, and three varieties of full size tomatoes in our fields.
Above, the three types of cherry tomatoes grown in our hoop house for our trial. The small yellow are coyote, the small red are Chiapas, and the orange are sungold. A pink dahlia is shown with the bowl of harvest tomatoes. Both dahlias and cherry tomatoes come in heavily in August.
Cherry Tomato Trial
We grew cherry tomatoes in our hoop house so that we could have an earlier harvest. The three varieties trialed were in the same rows and grew under the same conditions. Our CSA members really loved the cherry tomatoes, so we definitely plan to devote more space on the farm to cherry tomatoes next year.
This sweet orange hybrid cherry tomato was delicious, showed great disease resistance and hardly any of them cracked. In the seed catalog, the variety was noted for having some issues with cracking, but we did not experience Anya cracks, due to being able to regulate watering in the hoop house, and also the drought. In addition to not cracking, the sungold tomatoes were a perfect size cherry tomato. They produced good amounts of fruits for us. The only downside to this variety is that it is not available in organic seed, which is important to us. We try to buy organic seed as much as possible, so that we are supporting other organic farmers through our seed purchases. We will definitely grow these again next year, and also we will grow toronjina, a very similar variety to sungold that is available in organic seed.
I learned about this little yellow gem through Fruition Seeds, a seed company and farm in New York working on developing and promoting varieties suited to the northeast. This variety promised disease resistance and didn’t disappoint, seemingly unaffected by the late light and early blight disease that are problematic in our area. Surprisingly given its resistance to northern tomato diseases, coyote is an heirloom variety from Mexico. The fruits had a nice level of sweetness and a rich tomato flavor. These were our favorite variety based on flavor. Yields were pretty good, slightly less than sungold which was our top producer. The small size made these cherry tomatoes time consuming to pick. I would prefer them a little larger, but the size was not a deal breaker. The only reason these took the number two spot is because they cracked and split very frequently, even though we were in total control of the amount of water they received, due to growing them in a greenhouse. We ate enormous amounts of these due to all the ones that split, and never got tired of the flavor. They were a delicious little golden treat:, like candy, and we couldn’t get enough. We will definitely grow them again next year. If you are growing these in a home garden and cracking is not a concern, I highly recommend these. Unfortunately we cannot sell cracked tomatoes from our farm, as cracked tomatoes have a poor shelf life.
Like coyote, Chiapas is an heirloom variety from Mexico. Unlike coyote, Chiapas will not be on my list of favorites. To put it bluntly, this cherry tomato variety was disappointing. The vines produced few fruits. The cherry tomatoes that did form were tiny, slightly larger than a pea, and lacking in flavor. The skins were thick, and the flavor was bland, acidic, and with little to no sweetness. Although the Chiapas variety was touted for disease resistance, we lost several of these plants to early blight before they even had a chance to produce fruits. The plants that did not die of early blight were unaffected by disease later on in the season. For a red cherry tomato, I greatly preferred Sakura, which I grew in 2019, but skipped in 2020 in favor of trialing Chiapas. Perhaps this variety did not like the heat of the greenhouse and would perform better in different conditions, but I am unlikely to try it again.
Slicing Tomato Trial
All of our slicing tomatoes were a success this year. With no rain for the entire summer, we had no issues with splitting or cracking, typically caused by too much water. I am not ranking the slicing tomato varieties as they were each unique and delicious in their own way. I trialed an orange, pink, and red variety, and all three were delicious and worth growing again. Next year I would like to expand into also growing green, yellow and purple slicing tomatoes, as well as some paste tomatoes for canning.
Jaune flamme tomatoes are the small orange ones shown in the foreground of this image. The pink tomatoes shown above are Martha Washington variety, while the red tomatoes are brandywise variety.
Orange tomato - Jaune Flamme
Jean flame was a success two years in a row. I grew them in the greenhouse in 2019, and in the field in 2020. These tomatoes are about the size and shape of an egg and are orange with a red blush. When ripe, they are soft and bursting with sweet juice that has a rich tomato flavor. An old heirloom variety from France, this variety has persisted due to its amazing flavor. I find it best to harvest and sell them when they are slightly underripe, as they are very delicate when ripe, due to their soft and juicy texture. Pick them and leave them on your counter until soft and ripe. They suffered somewhat from disease, but I had no catastrophic losses. I would consider them to have good disease resistance, especially for an heirloom. I had no issues with cracking from these tomatoes, although that could be due to the drought. I will have to see how they do in a year with more rain to find out if they are prone to cracking. Both years that I grew this tomato, yields were outstanding, and I struggled to keep up with picking them all. A project I would like to try with this variety is to make sun-dried tomatoes. Due to their exceptional sweetness and flavor, I feel that sun-dried tomatoes made with the jaune flame variety would be a real treat, as well as a way to preserve their abundance.
Holding a brandywise tomato in my right hand and a Martha Washington tomato in my left hand.
Red tomato - Brandywise
This variety truly combines the flavor of an heirloom tomato with the vigor of a hybrid. Breeders at Cornell crossed the flavorful brandywine variety with varieties known for their disease resistance to create brandy wise. An interesting observation about this variety is that as a seedling, it grew faster than our other varieties, and got root-bound faster in its pot. The flavor of this tomato was sweet, with a nice hint of acidity and a faint hint of spice. Delicious! I loved this bright red tomato on sandwiches and in salads. The texture of the tomato had a nice amount of softness and juiciness, without being too easily smooshed and damaged. I had no issues with cracking or splitting of this tomato. Yields were not the highest, but acceptable. The size of the tomato had a lot of variation, as is expected of a tomato with heirloom genetics. On average they were baseball sized, but ranged from golf ball to grapefruit size. The disease resistance was strong, as promised. I will surely grow brandywise again. A huge thank you is owed to fruition seeds for developing this variety.
Getting ready to make some grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches with slices of brandywise tomato, and getting some zucchini ready for the grill. Want a share of our next harvest? Click here to purchase or to learn more.
Pink tomato - Martha Washington
Like brandywise, Martha Washington is a hybrid tomato variety that combines the genetics of heirloom varieties and modern, disease-resistant varieties to give the best of both worlds. These tennis-ball sized pink beauties were soft and juicy, very sweet, and highly aromatic. I found them to have a rich flavor and very low acidity. I especially enjoyed them sliced raw on top of a hot slice of cheese pizza. The yields of the Martha Washington tomato were high, and disease resistance was great. I will be growing these as my pink tomato for many years to come. A great mid-season slicer.
How was your tomato season?
How did your tomatoes do in your garden this year? Which were your favorite varieties, and why? Comment below with your take on growing tomatoes in 2020.