A Guide to Our Favourite Tomato Varieties

A Guide to Our Favourite Tomato Varieties

Beefsteak tomatoes - tomato header

Whatever about sowing onions, broad beans or other early crops in February, it isn't until tomato sowing time that I get properly excited. That is when the season really gets going.

It is possible to sow tomatoes in February if you can provide the light and heat they require, but it is best to wait until mid-March. Once we get to the spring equinox (the 20th of March, day and night the same length), this gives enough warmth and light during the day for balanced seedling growth (in a greenhouse or polytunnel). A heat source will still be needed at night to protect from cold but, as every day passes, growing conditions improve.

Tomato seedlings

The Best Tomato Varieties to Grow
For the last couple of years I have been trialing a number of different tomatoes, growing for flavour obviously (why else would you grow them?), and using many varieties mentioned or recommended by growers who know what they are doing.

Everyone talks about 'Sungold F1' (fair enough, it is hard to beat) as the best-tasting cherry tomato but I also grow the superb 'Sweet Aperitif': it has a high sugar content combined with just the right amount of acidity, for a complex and refreshing taste.

Another variety I have had great success with is 'Maskotka', a bush variety suitable for pots or hanging baskets that produces heavy yields of large cherry size tomatoes. I read about it on Nicky Kyle's very informative blog where she absolutely raves about it.

Maskotka is also very early to fruit and, with a little care, will keep going into October: making these compact plants great value for the amount of space they occupy.

Anyone who is interested in growing vegetables and hasn't heard of Charles Dowding is missing a trick as the amount of reliable, first hand information he shares is truly vast. I always take note of his variety recommendations which is why I tried the relatively new German bred tomatoes, 'Primabella' and 'Resibella' last season. Both did exceptionally well for me with high yields of very well flavoured fruit. I will be growing them again this year and, as you see below, so can you! 

New Quickcrop Seed Varieties 
I am very pleased to report that all the recommendations that have worked well for us are now part of our new and improved seed range which, after a few delays (mostly my fault) is ready to go on sale. I have included a list of our new tomato varieties below with a brief description of why I chose them. I hope that if you try them this year, you have the same success that I did. 

A few notes on tomato types
In general I have stuck to cherry, large cherry, roma and beefsteak tomato types. I haven't added any of the standard medium sized salad varieties as many of them are bred for shelf life so have thicker skins and a lower sugar content. I did add plenty of large cherries (e.g. Resibella and Maskotka) to fill that gap because they are close in size to salad tomatoes but taste much better. 

It is obvious I guess but the smaller the tomato, the quicker it is to ripen. I mention this because your choice of tomato may be governed by your garden. If you have a warm and sunny sheltered garden you may be able to grow tomatoes outside, but it is highly unlikely that a big beefsteak will ripen. You will be better off going for a cherry or large cherry like the aforementioned 'Primabella' or 'Resibella'; both are bred for outdoor growing.

The same applies to greenhouses or polytunnels which may be partially shaded; a small tomato will have a better chance of ripening than a large one in less than ideal conditions.

The quality of the fruit in large beefsteak tomatoes varies depending on the summer, with hot years giving the sweetest and juiciest fruit. In my experience growing in a tunnel in a fairly cloudy local climate, they produce delicious fruit either way, just some years they are slightly better than others.

When I first started growing, I avoided beefsteaks because I didn't think I had the summers for them. I regret this now because they have generally done very well. If you have a northern garden and are on the fence, I would give at least one variety a go. 

Large Cherry - 'Sakura F1' 
'Sakura F1' is a high-yielding cherry tomato with exceptional flavour: second only to the famous 'Sungold F1'. Fruits are early to ripen and larger than most cherry varieties, making this one a very versatile tomato. High resistance to Fusarium wilt, leaf mold, and tomato mosaic virus gives a long, generally trouble-free, cropping season. A very popular variety with market growers for good reason. 

This is an expensive tomato (nearly a euro a seed) but, considering the amount of top drawer fruit you get from a single seed, not a crazy investment.

Large Cherry - 'Primabella' 
Tomato 'Primabella' is a superb German-bred outdoor cherry tomato suitable for growing outside in warm and sheltered UK gardens. The large cherry fruits (weighing up to 28g) have a very well balanced, lingering sweet/acid flavour; most unusual for an outdoor variety. 

'Primabella' also has excellent resistance to late blight, a very desirable trait in damp summers. For vigour, flavour and its long fruiting season, this variety consistantly outperforms most other outdoor tomatoes suitable for growing in the UK. Also suitable for growing under cover in a greenhouse or polytunnel.

Bush Tomato - 'Maskotka'
An early bush type with sweet and juicy large cherry sized fruit. Flavour is an old fashioned tomato tang, delicious fresh but also makes a surprisingly good cooking tomato. One of the earliest to ripen with a long picking season - highly recommended. 

Habit is low growing and bushy so ideal for pots, grow-bags or large hanging baskets. The low height also makes 'Maskotka' a good choice for growing under cloches or mini tunnels which enables growers without a greenhouse or polytunnel to grow tomatoes outside in a warm garden. Very easy to grow and does not require staking.

Resibella tomatoes, whole and sliced open

Salad tomato - 'Resibella'
A medium sized salad tomato with very good balanced tomato taste, of similar size to the well known 'Moneymaker' but better flavour. Delicious in salads and sandwiches and great for cooking. 

'Resibella' is an early ripening, vigorous and blight tolerant variety making it suitable for growing outdoors in warm and sheltered southerly gardens. As with 'Primabella', also suitable for growing under cover.

Beefsteak Tomato - 'Berner Rose'
Also known as ‘Rose de Berne’ this Swiss heirloom is a tasty beefsteak tomato well suited to growing undercover in cooler climates. A reliable cordon-type producing round, thin-skinned fruit which are large and fleshy and of an unusual pinky-red colour. In a good year, these tomatoes are utterly juicy and delicious.

'Berner Rose' is also relatively early to ripen (for a beefsteak) and will do better than southern European varieties in a poor summer, so well suited to our climate. 

Marmorossa tomatoes

Roma Tomato - 'Marmorossa'
An unusual Roma tomato with elongated, pointed fruits weighing 200g that ripen to dark red streaked with orange flashes. The flesh of the fruit is firm with excellent flavour. A super meaty paste tomato with few seeds, perfect for sauces, passatas and purees.

Roma Tomato - 'Rio Grande'
An old heirloom plum tomato variety with thick and meaty flesh ideal for making pasta sauces and tomato purée. 'Rio Grande' is one of the best tasting roma types with a mix of sweetness and acidity unusual in paste tomatoes, a trait that also makes it very good eaten fresh from the vine. 

Rio Grande is high-yielding and disease resistant, an excellent choice for beginner growers. 

San Marzano tomatoes

Plum Tomato - 'San Marzano'
'San Marzano' is a highly-regarded Italian heritage plum tomato. With its thick fleshy skin and lower water content, this variety is commonly used for sauces and pastes and is the preferred choice for making authentic Neapolitan pizza. 

'San Marzano' will reward you with a high-yielding crop of delicious plum tomatoes that grow up to 7cm long.

Beefsteak Tomato - 'Yellow Brandywine'
'Yellow Brandywine' is an heirloom beefsteak variety with ribbed golden-yellow fruits. The tomatoes are thin-skinned, have few seeds and are fleshy and fragrant. Yellow tomatoes have a reputation for being less acidic than red, but tests have shown that this is not necessarily the case. Yellow tomatoes tend to have a higher sugar content which shifts the sweet/sour balance more to the sweet side. 

Yellow Brandywine is one of the best tasting beefsteak tomatoes and is highly regarded for its reliability and vigorous growth.

Noire de Crimee beefsteak tomatoes

Beefsteak - Noire de Crimee
A sweet and spicy beefsteak tomato with a wonderful aroma and distinctive dark reddish-brown skin. Ideal for soups, slicing and sauces. A hint of natural saltiness balances the sweetness to give that unmistakable homegrown dark tomato flavour. 

Noire de Crimee is vigorous and early ripening for a beef tomato. Interesting, unusual and with great flavour when fully ripe - recommended.

Old Favourites
So that's the newer varieties that we've added. But of course we also have some old reliables:

Tomato Marmande
Marmande is a popular heritage French variety which produces medium to large fruit with a full rich flavour. As with many older varieties, fruit shape can be irregular which looks great sliced in a salad and gives you that authentic 'homegrown' look.

Tomato Marmande in the polytunnel

'Gardener's Delight'
A popular and dependable cherry tomato with a sweet, tangy flavor. Gardeners Delight is small, round, and typically grown in clusters. The tomatoes are well-suited for both outdoor and greenhouse cultivation, as well as growing in containers. They are often used in salads, as snacks, or for making sauces and preserves.

Sweet Aperitif - Cherry Tomato
As mentioned above, this was the clear winner at a taste trial held at The Organic Centre back in 2013. They are small and bite-sized, with a high sugar content that lends them a deliciously sweet and tangy taste. Sweet Aperitif has an indeterminate growing habit with long trusses, and will result in an impressive yield.

It can be grown in a sunny, sheltered spot in the garden but is best grown in the greenhouse.

Sungold tomatoes in the polytunnel

Sungold - F1 Cherry Tomato
An award-winning cherry tomato variety that takes on a vibrant orange colour when ripe. Sungold will produce healthy clusters of small, perfectly round fruits with exceptional flavour.

It's one of the earliest tomato varieties to ripen, but will also keep producing for a long time: if tops are pinched out in late September and the plants are kept frost free, Sungold will ripen into November without losing flavour.

'Shirley' Vine Tomato
Shirley Vine remains one of the more popular tomato varieties due to its heavy crop output and good resistance to common diseases. The early-maturing tomatoes are medium-sized with smooth skin.

A good choice for containers and growbags, Shirley Vine is tolerant of cooler climates and is a good, dependable option for the beginner gardener.