Tomato varieties that I’ll grow again, cross my ‘mater-pickin’ heart

rows of cherry tomato baskets, many colors

pretty, pretty, pretty!

EVERY SUMMER, as I stand in my crowded tomato rows picking tomatoes, I think deeply about the varieties that I planted this year. Analytically. Critically. Well . . . maybe not deeply . .  . but I do think about them a lot. I assess. After all, next year’s garden starts with this year’s tomato analysis.

I just made that up. (I like it!) Let’s say that again, just for fun.

(But this post is not about garden planning.) Every fall I pick a few varieties that really impress me, and I share my thoughts (for what they are worth!) about them with you, gentle reader.

Here’s my post from two years ago on this subject. Aaaannd here are three more:

Shoot, I should probably organize these somehow . . . maybe write a little brochure or something. (But this post is not about new brochures.)

Oh boy. The pressure. I know how many wheels are poised for action, as so many tomato growers wait for this post. 🙂 I hear that Mother Earth News is waiting for this post before they reveal their top heirloom tomato recommendations for next year. Undoubtedly the staff members of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company (from whom I buy most of my seeds) are sitting at their collective digital devices, pushing “refresh” again and again . . . waiting for this iconic blog post from your gentle (and humble) blogger.

This, in fact, was overheard in the offices of Baker Creek this week:

We’re behind on choosing the cover art for next spring’s catalog, but we can’t get serious about it until we’ve found out what Amy’s favorites are this year . . . after all, those will be our big sellers next year . . .

And from Mother Earth News:

We can’t publish the year-end article about the best heirloom tomatoes of 2018 until we see the much-ballyhooed list! Dash it all! WHEN WILL SHE POST THAT BLOG???

Not to be outdone by all those folks in the Midwest, a memo apparently floating about through the offices of the New York Times:

Our feature on the most popular heirloom tomato varieties of 2018 isn’t complete until that vomiting chicken lady publishes her “best of” list! Why, oh why, must this humble lady of inestimable influence live clear out in flyover country?

(Too far?)

Ha! I’ve always had (misplaced) visions of grandeur. When I was a girl, in fact, speaking of swimming 🙂 I spent a lot of time in the town pool, pretending that I was a mermaid. (I still astonish myself, at least, on how long I am able to swim underwater. Personally? I think I can do it because it is ABSOLUTELY THE ONLY QUIET SPOT IN MY ENTIRE WORLD. Underwater? *sigh* So. Quiet. Absolutely true. Try it, Mamas.)

I knew that my swimming was so lovely and so sylph-like that everyone around me stopped what they were doing, just to watch me glide by (in open-mouthed astonishment!).

Mermaids must be real . . . I just saw one swim past me, right here in the Nelson pool! More beautiful, in fact, than I ever could have imagined . . !


Did you see that beautiful long golden hair, hiding her–upper extremities? Gosh. If I were a mermaid, I would want to look like that one!


Okay, back on Planet Earth, and not all the way to the swimming pool, either. Or the ocean, where the real mermaids reside. (This post is not about mermaids, or fantasies of greatness. No, ma’ams. And sirs.)

Back to my garden, where I raised more tomato plants this year than I had cages for. I had to open up more garden space, as a matter of fact, to make room for them. I had them in my hoop house, in my first garden, and in the newly-opened-to-the-public third garden, as well. SO MANY TOMATOES.

baskets and bins of ripe tomatoes

One morning’s harvest.

In general, it has been a very good tomato year out here in flyover country. Other farmers have said as much; it wasn’t just me. A few varieties really stood out. Aaaaand (shameless plug here to subscribe, and to come back) I did a few things differently in planting and growing my heirloom tomatoes that did seem to make a big difference in the health and productivity of my tomato plants.

Another brochure in the works, folks, word to the wise gentle reader.

So anyway, without further ado, here are my favorite heirloom varieties from this year’s garden (with the sources for seed, also: bonus!).

Green Gage* (Baker Creek)

Green Gage tomatoes

Pro tip: If you have any problems with bugs taking bites out of your tomatoes, pick them after they’ve started to turn (as in these greenish-yellow ones) but before they are dead ripe.

A real winner in the small yellow tomato category, Green Gage is bigger than a cherry tomato, smaller than tennis ball. Bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a baseball. Bigger than a shooter marble . . . you get the idea! Sweet and prolific. I pick them by the handfuls, not singly. That’s how crowded with fruit the plants are. It’s a very early producer, too, I think these were the first ripe tomatoes I picked. (Why are these taxi-cab-yellow tomatoes called GREEN Gage, though? Anybody?)

Purple Bumblebee (Baker Creek)

striped purple cherry tomatoes

I just love stripes, don’t you?

I grew three Bumblebees this year–pink, sunrise, and purple. My pinks and sunrises didn’t do well, but the couple of purple bumblebee plants that I planted have been loaded with these beauties all summer long. We’ve had a summer of extremes here in Nebraska–extreme heat, extreme dryness, extreme extremes, and in the past few weeks, extreme moisture with heavy rains, but these babies have not been prone to cracking, which is amazing to me. (Extremely amazing.) A beautiful little tomato, and very tasty, too.

Brad’s Atomic Grape tomato (Baker Creek’s pretty cover tomato this year)

Brad's Atomic Grape tomato

This one is slightly underripe, but isn’t that purple coloration lovely?

Baker Creek’s catalog last year had this gorgeous photo of these new tomatoes from Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms on the cover. I think I probably had an envelope of them in my online cart so fast that the earth shook a little around our farm. I might have broken a speed record, or disturbed the time/space continuum, or something.

Smug (so often the new desirable varieties sell out quickly, but I didn’t miss out this time, no sir), the next day I talked with my son Matthew (aka the “Oracle”) who, admittedly, hasn’t grown tomatoes as long as I have (BY FAR), but still has a modicum of sense where growing them is concerned.

He said that he was tempted by the flashy catalog photo, as well, but that he was going to sit back and wait a year or two to see how other folks’ experiences with this newbie panned out.

That did give me pause.

Now here’s a question for you, gentle reader. What gives our children the right to get smarter and more insightful than us in certain areas? As I think of it, every one of my children (including 12 year old Malachi, but puh-leeeze don’t repeat me on that!) has developed areas of expertise where I must now grovel piteously and ask advice of them. It’s very humbling, and if you haven’t experienced it yet, you will. (In the immortal words of Yoda: You will.)


bin of tomatoes

These tomatoes were heavy producers in my garden patch–see?


Boy, the family Oracle just ruined my fun with his overweening common sense. But. Since I already had a cart so full and since it filled so quickly (as if on its own!) that I was already trying to cull out varieties that it wouldn’t actually kill me not to grow, I went against my crazy impulsive tendencies and cut this tomato from my list. It caused me pain. (Actual, physical pain, Matthew.) It did. But I did it, anyway.

Time passed. I was sad.

I received my order from Baker Creek, and found that I had to place another order. But still, I resisted the alluring Brad’s Atomic. Not without effort, mind you.

More time passed. I had little tomato plants up in plug trays at this point. Still pouting, a little.

I made a couple more orders (gah! more postage!), as I realized that I had forgotten some crucial items from my first and second orders. Of course, this flashy newcomer tomato was sold out early on, I assumed . . . . I checked every time, Matthew’s words ringing through my brain (“sit back and wait a year or two–“). I was sorely tempted. But I can be as sensible as the next one. (Some say.) So I held fast. Plus . . . forking out that postage and handling fee, again and again . . . it goes against my natural tightwaddery.

Then it happened. I noticed on my latest order that I had (through some stroke of luck or a mistake in the office?) been the unwitting recipient of FREE SHIPPING. (Senior discount? Frequent ordering bonus? Pity Freebie for somebody who obviously didn’t have her act together?? Who knows?) Feverishly, I checked to see if they still had the Brad’s Atomic in stock.

*gasp* They did.

That was it. Clearly, I was intended to grow it this summer. It was MEANT TO BE.

I put BRAD’S ATOMIC GRAPE tomato seeds BACK in my cart (sorry, dear Oracle) so quickly that even my head was spinning, and I received FREE SHIPPING on it, too. 🙂 (I didn’t tell Matthew.)

Brad’s newest darling of the artisan tomato crowd? My feelings are mixed, but I’m still recommending your trying them, if you like to grow weird and different things, as I do. The tomatoes are delightfully stunning on the vine–purple and blue striped, and then when they turn ripe, they get streaks of orange and pink and rust colors. (Caveat: I didn’t get the ripe ones picked before a heavy overnight rain, and ALL the smaller ripe fruit split, but none of the larger ones did. So. There’s that. The skins are fairly tough, also, if that sort of thing offends you.)

BUT I do like the taste of these tomatoes. They are juicy when ripe. And they certainly have a different coloration than any other tomatoes I’ve grown. There ya go. Mixed feelings, but I’ll still probably grow them again. Oh, another thing: they vary from being a smallish elongated cherry-sized like my old favorites Blush and Lucky Tiger, all the way to a decent plum-sized. That doesn’t bother me, but if you like consistency in your tomatoes, be aware.

Blue berries (Baker Creek)

blue berries tomatoes

This is what they look like on the side that the sun touches.

I think this was the first variety I grew from Brad’s new tomatoes. I grow it every year and will continue to, for two reasons: it is wildly prolific, and the tomatoes are simply a treat to look at. (Hey, I’m an artist.)

cherry tomatoes in my hand

This what the same cluster looks like on the underside.

The tomatoes turn a bright, shiny purple where the sun hits them, and then mature to pink, red, and maroon. One plant will be covered in clusters of fruit of all these different colors, and it is simply stunning. The taste of the tomatoes is a little sour, in my opinion, but I like them.

blue berries tomatoes

These underripe fruit are the prettiest shiny purple!

Midnight Snack (Ivy Garth, ask for Christopher!)

Midnight Snack cherry tomato

Hmm. In retrospect, I should have waited a little longer before clipping this cluster off!

My friend Christopher at the Ivy Garth seed company talked me into trying this one. (He was polite and exceedingly patient with me even though I put him off–and off—and off–with my order, so I had to do something to make up for it, and ordering these seeds seemed it.) Midnight Snack is a 2017 AAA winner, and is touted as being a “big improvement on purple tomatoes.”

The coloration in these tomatoes comes from the accumulation of anthocyanin pigments–the same way blueberries get their color–and they contain healthy antioxidants. Midnight Snack is a bigger cherry tomato than the Blue Berries, and has a slightly sweeter taste when ripe. And any cherry tomato that I can clip off in clusters when ripe, instead of singly, is definitely a winner in my book!

I will grow this one again, thank you very much, Christopher.

Big Rainbow* (Baker Creek)

Pineapple tomatoes

(Thanks to my foot model, Malachi Miller.) Easily the prettiest big tomato I grew this year. When you cut into them, they are pink-yellow-red swirled. Absolutely stunning!

You’ve probably noticed by now that most of my new favorites are cherry tomatoes. I plant the larger and the medium-sized ones, too, but this year I went in to cherry tomatoes in a big way, as I sell a lot of them to chefs. But I did have some favorites in the big tomato category, too. Big Rainbow satisfies all my senses abundantly: it’s a fruity, flavorful, juicy tomato with gorgeous color, and the plants really produced a lot of tomatoes. Furthermore it wasn’t prone to cracking or bug damage.

Many of my Big Rainbows reached two pounds in size. It doesn’t take many of them to fill a canning jar!

Cherokee Purple (Baker Creek)

Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Everybody’s Favorite Heirloom—or at least on everybody’s top favorites list.

This is everybody’s favorite, I know. There’s something about the dark tomatoes that are particularly satisfying on a BLT or any other sandwich. Cherokee Purple is a winner on many gardener’s lists, I suppose, because of the excellent old-fashioned tomato taste, and it’s nearly always a reliable producer for me, too. This is my favorite purple tomato, so far, at least!

Green Doctors (Baker Creek)

row of little green cherry tomatoes

Ripe, nearly ripe, a little green, green, maybe overripe, ripe, and perfect.

I don’t know why, but there’s something oddly appealing about popping a green tomato into one’s mouth and experiencing not what you would expect–a tart crunchy green tomato taste–but a fully ripe juicy tomato taste. That little delightful surprise is what you get with these little green jewels. They are delicious, and my plants have been loaded all summer. Only one trouble: figuring out which ones are ripe enough to pick! I think I’m getting better at it, now that I’ve been harvesting them for a few weeks, but it does take me awhile to pick them. But I think they are worth it! They are truly delicious and beautiful in a mixed basket of cherry tomatoes.

BY THE WAY . . . what’s this all about:


lots of big yellow tomatoes

Yeah, there are a few purples and greens in there, but what’s the predominant color? Yellow!

I don’t know why . . . it does raise serious questions in my mind. Was it the weather, my germination issues, (i.e. half of the warm weather crops–mainly peppers and tomatoes–that I tried to grow from seed during the winter didn’t even germinate) or what? I don’t know the cause, but though I planted a nice variety of red, purple, stripey, pink, and yellow tomatoes (I have a spreadsheet filled with info to prove it, thanks to my mentor Gene’s gentle–or not so gentle–insistence that I learn how to make spreadsheets) (thanks, Gene, seriously) I ended up with WAY more yellow tomato types than any other. Waaaaaay more.

Take a gander.

But enough about me and my tomato year. What about you? How did your tomatoes do this season? Any successes, failures, or anything you want to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Don’t be shy!

By the way (beware: affiliate link a’comin’): If you are still using an old clearance-rack trowel for your planting, please, please do yourself a favor and buy yourself one of these: I looove mine. I’m rarely seen without it, in fact. (Ask anyone!)

And. And, and . . . another favorite tool that I’ve bought several of this year (Gosh, I don’t know where they all keep going—is somebody slipping into my hoop house and pinching them??) and that I wouldn’t be without. These nippers are great for harvesting herbs, pruning tomato plants, and so many other things. Love them!

And one more thing that I’ve become hooked on this summer . . . strapping on a gardening apron when I head out every day to work. I keep my cell phone (for listening to podcasts!) in one pocket, a small notebook and pen in another, my nippers and other small tools in another one. I feel–sooo–clever and accomplished when I’m wearing this! (You will, too!)

Thanks, as always, for popping in and for commenting, sharing, and liking my posts on Fb.

I love you! (I mean it!)

‘Til next time . . . ! 🙂




10 thoughts on “Tomato varieties that I’ll grow again, cross my ‘mater-pickin’ heart

  1. Diane Young Decker

    Based only on taste, which ones would be your favorites? One of my favorite memories is of the smell of tomatoes ripening on every windowsill in the house. My dad was such an avid gardener. I wish he was still around to see what you are doing in the garden. He would love all the heirloom tomatoes especially.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Diane, Ohhhh I don’t know that I can choose . . . other favorites that I’ve written about–Green Zebra, Brandywine, Dester–so many good ones. I think you need to try a few and choose which is your favorite! I wish your dad was still around, too!

  2. Sharon H

    I love the Cherokee Purple and Brandywine, and Black Krim, but also love some others, like Pink Girl, which held up nicely this year, Rutgers, then Jet Setter did okay and was new to me. Arkansas Traveler was okay but smaller than I expected.
    I never have good luck starting my tomatoes from seed, darn it, so I generally rely on ready grown plants. Would love to try some of those from Baker’s Creek. I did get some other seeds from them though and will continue to order from them.

  3. Kay

    You know the angst and sorrow that was my garden this year. A few weeks ago the Farmer wanted to shred what remained (i.e. WEEDS and GRASS!) but I wanted to dig the potatoes first or I knew we’d never find them. While I waited I pulled out the tomato cages from the oh-so-sad dead plants that never had a chance. *sob* But, Wait! What’s this? CUCUMBERS??!! But they died, I saw it, with my own eyes. Apparently not all died as there was one vine that has yielded about a dozen cukes so far. The jalepeno had no fruit nor blooms. It’s getting a bit shady in that area of the garden. Farmer found 2 tomato plants still alive that were furthest from where he sprayed. One was the cherry tomato you really liked and saved for me. Yellow-orange pear shaped. I’ve seen a few fruit on it but nothing like it should have. And the Brandywine so far has produced one fruit that rotted on my counter. I would say there’s always next year but we made the hard decision that I dont’ have the time anymore to take care of a garden and I really love the local Farmer’s Market. Please keep posting garden posts so I can garden cyberly with you.

  4. Janet Dugan

    My experiment for this year was Mushroom Basket tomatoes. Baker Creek has them. They are my new favorite! Big silky,sweet,meaty,strange-looking fruit that produced well even in this summer’s weird weather! They are a pain in the patootie to peel,but well worth it!

  5. Becky

    Sitting here in my nice air conditioned house you make tomato growing sound so appealing… and then I remember how much (blazing hot) work it is, haha!
    I envy you your lovely fruits. I’m begging some from my brother this year. We had to move our garden (too, TOO much shade!), and didn’t get the raised bed finish until the end of JULY. My sad plants waited allllll that time. I planted them, what were left (couldn’t have more tomato-murders on my conscience), and they are starting to look good!… which is weird as all the gardens around us are looking time worn and fallish. Not One Home Grown Tomato This Year. My heart is breaking. 2018 has been good, busy, fun, but tomatoishly speaking, not our best. I’ll just soak in your pictures again for while, thank you.

  6. Jeannie Siegling

    Wow! You have a few (thousand) tomatoes! A friend gave me four tomato plants that she had started in her basement in January! A Brandywine, which I planted in an earth box with a red bell pepper plant; a Black Krim, a German green, and a Rutgers, which I planted in straw bales, two to a bale. I also, on a whim, picked up a cantaloupe plant at Wal Mart and put it in the second straw bale spot.
    This was my first time trying straw bale gardening. The earth box tomato, Brandywine went crazy at first and had medium-sized heirloom fruit. I trimmed it back and between that and the tomato (tobacco) worms, it petered out. The straw bale plantings were slow to grow, but once their roots reached the nice, rich, fertilized mulch in the middle, they went crazy (I have not trimmed these plants back and had to put in T-posts to stabilize the tomato cages, which you can’t even see anymore!) and they have been bearing lots of beautiful tomatoes.
    The German greens are prolific, huge, heirloom tomatoes that get a lighter, yellow hue with a little pink striping on the bottom when ripe and have a mild, tomatoey taste. The Black Krim are small, round tomatoes and taste good. The Rutgers are the perfect tomato – large, round, red, yummy, perfect!
    And, lets not forget the cantaloupe, which I am growing vertically on a trellis – I’ve never been successful at growing cantaloupe, but this one also went crazy and has been flowering all summer. The first melon was small and not particularly impressive, but the second melon was huge, sweet, juicy, mmmmm! The third melon got too heavy and before I had a chance to put some support under it, the vine broke. Then nothing. We had a cool spell for about a week and a half, and now I have fruit growing again. I think I counted 5 melons that are growing at this point – and I’ve made sure they’re supported.
    So, for a small, experimental garden, this year was a winner! Oh, and there is what I thought is a pumpkin vine that volunteered, growing in the chicken yard. It too, has been having huge, beautiful flowers on it all summer, and what looks like fruit at the base of the flower has just withered away with the flower. But now, there are four fruits growing! They start out with a narrow neck and then bulb out. They are pale green with darker green stripes. Don’t know if it is a combination of a zucchini and pumpkin or cantaloupe and yellow squash, or what! I’ve given the chickens all of those yummy things to eat. So, only time will tell, providing the chickens don’t eat them first.
    Sorry that this turned into a book – I am just now realizing how grateful I am for the joy that a simple thing like growing a garden (and having chickens), brings to one’s life! Thank you, for your blogs!

  7. cookinmom

    Oh, I must try the “Big Rainbow”. Wow those are big! I would give anything to have your soil! I planted mostly sun sugar/gold cherry tomatoes this past summer as they last a long time and I would eat all of them off the vine before making it into the house! I did well with cucumbers this yr. Fixing to enjoy my Roselle! Looking forward to refreshing drinks & teas!

  8. Angela Watson

    Moved from the far SW (San Diego) to the far NW (Olympic Peninsula), and have been challenged by the change in tomato-ing. That plus, a bunch of trees that limit sun and I’ve had to re-learn nearly everything I knew about tomatoes. Had luck with only 2 cherries this year; my other seedlings were casualties of war (too much rain and chickens).
    But given your humidity, I think I’ll stay put, cut down a couple of trees and try again next year.

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