Last fall, we conducted an online survey asking readers about the best tomatoes that grow where they live. More than 2,000 people responded, telling us their favorite varieties and offering helpful tomato-growing tips.
PHOTO: EMILY HELLER
The surest way to have a successful tomato crop is to grow varieties with a proven track record in organic gardens in your area. Last fall, we conducted an online survey asking readers about the best tomato varieties for their regions, and we got even more great information than we expected!
In addition to naming names, our 2,000 respondents offered up a treasure-trove of useful tips. Some of the best of these appear in the regional lists of top tomato varieties below. Additional regional tomato-growing tips appear on our regional gardening pages.
Tomato Lover’s Profile
Our survey was open to anyone. Many members of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Gardening Advisory Board weighed in on what they view as the best tomatoes, as did folks from Seed Savers Exchange and various online gardening forums. Many gardeners with only a few years of experience didn’t suggest varieties, but instead begged for help! Gardeners with more experience shared many variety recommendations.
Many gardeners had common purposes, with more than 44 percent of respondents saying they hoped to grow enough tomatoes “to eat fresh, preserve and share.” More than 66 percent use only organic methods, with compost and aged manure the top choices for fertilizers. About half of the survey-takers reported that tomatoes are easy or moderately easy for them to grow, with more difficulty noted in extreme climates.
Tomato Varieties and Types
It was easy to tally up scores for well-known varieties such as ‘Amish Paste’ or ‘Early Girl,’ but several variety groups presented identification problems. As I combed through the lists, “beefsteak” and “roma” formed large generic categories, so they are treated that way for ranking purposes. ‘Brandywine’ should be considered a generic category as well, because it was impossible to identify strains that vary in color from pink to yellow to black.
For organizational purposes, the survey sorted tomatoes into the following types:
- Slicers: main-crop tomatoes for eating fresh and making sauce
- Cherries: marble-sized fruits in a rainbow of colors, for eating fresh or drying
- Paste/Canning: thick-fleshed varieties for canning or drying
- Really Big Ones: huge fruits that often weigh more than a pound
- Saladette/Pear: small fruits, great eaten fresh and increasingly popular for drying
- Non-reds: varieties that ripen to yellow, orange, green, purple, black or striped
Note that a tomato can fall into more than one category — for example, a great slicing tomato might also be a non-red.
Respondents rated various tomato characteristics in terms of importance. Here are your five highest priorities:
- Disease resistance
- High yields
- Heat resistance
North America’s Top 30
The top 30 varieties listed below show a mix of hybrid (F1) and open-pollinated (OP) varieties. Many respondents declared an “heirlooms only” stance on tomatoes, especially in climates that are kind to tomatoes. Disease-resistant hybrids won more favor in stressful growing situations. Additionally, our survey showed that interest in better disease resistance increases with years of tomato-growing experience.
Please note that both hybrid and open-pollinated versions are available for the ‘Beefsteak,’ ‘Sungold,’ ‘Roma’ and ‘San Marzano’ varieties. You can locate varieties through our Seed and Plant Finder.
Top 30 Tomato Varieties
Types of Tomatoes:
OP = Open Pollinated, F1 = Hybrid
V = Verticillium Wilt, F = Fusarium Wilt,
N = Nematodes, T = Tobacco Mosaic Virus,
A = Alternaria, St = Gray Leaf Spot
1. ‘Brandywine’ (OP, 90 days)
2. ‘Early Girl’ (F1, VF, 75 days)
3. ‘Better Boy’ (F1, VFN, 75 days)
4. ‘Beefsteak’ (F1, OP, 80 to 90 days)
5. ‘Cherokee Purple’ (OP, 90 days)
Others of Note: ‘Big Boy,’ ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Rutgers,’ ‘Mortgage Lifter,’ ‘Big Beef’
1. ‘Super Sweet 100’ (F1, VF, 65 days)
2. ‘Sungold’ (F1, OP, VFT, 57 days)
3. ‘Black Cherry’ (OP, 65 days)
4. ‘Sweet Million’ (F1, VFNTSt, 65 days)
5. ‘Yellow Pear’ (OP, 70 days)
Others of Note: ‘Riesenstraube,’ ‘Snow White,’ ‘Gardener’s Delight’
1. ‘Roma’ (F1, VFN, OP, 75 days)
2. ‘Amish Paste’ (OP, 74 to 80 days)
3. ‘San Marzano’ (F1, VF, OP, 78 days)
4. ‘Opalka’ (OP, 85 days)
5. ‘Viva Italia’ (F1, VFNA, 75 days)
Others of Note: ‘Polish Linguisa,’ ‘Rutgers,’ ‘Striped/Speckled Roman’
Really Big Ones
1. ‘Beefsteak’ (F1, OP, 80 to 90 days)
2. ‘Brandywine’ (OP, 90 days)
3. ‘Big Boy’ (F1, 78 days)
4. ‘Mortgage Lifter’ (OP, 80 days)
5. ‘Better Boy’ (F1, VFN, 75 days)
Others of Note: ‘German Pink,’ ‘Beefmaster,’ ‘Belgian Giant,’ ‘Park’s Whopper,’ ‘Red Oxheart’
1. ‘Yellow Pear’ (OP, 70 days)
2. ‘Juliet’ (F1, blight tolerance, 60 days)
3. ‘Roma’ (F1, VFN, OP, 75 days)
4. ‘Red Pear’ (OP, 70 days)
5. ‘Stupice’ (OP, 55 to 60 days)
Others of Note: ‘Red Fig,’ ‘Flamme,’ ‘Principe Borghese’
1. ‘Cherokee Purple’ (OP, 90 days)
2. ‘Green Zebra’ (OP, 78 days)
3. ‘Black Krim’ (OP, 74 to 80 days)
4. ‘Lemon Boy’ (F1, VFN, 72 days)
5. ‘Pineapple’ (OP, 85 days)
Others of Note: ‘German Green,’ ‘Kellogg’s Breakfast,’ ‘Mr. Stripey’
Regional Top Tomato Varieties
Best in the Midwest: Striped Roman and Jet Star Tomatoes
Best in the Mid-Atlantic: Amish Paste and Brandywine Tomatoes
Best in the Interior South: Better Boy Tomatoes and Black Cherry Tomatoes
Best in the Pacific Northwest: Stupice and Sweet Million Tomatoes
Best in the North Central and Rockies: Early Girl and Yellow Pear Tomatoes
Best on the Gulf Coast: Arkansas Traveler and Creole Tomatoes
Best in the Southwest: Sungold and Other Cherry Tomatoes
Best in the Northeast: Super Sweet 100 and Juliet Tomatoes
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.