How to choose tomato varieties
We import 40 varieties of Italian tomatoes, all of them traditional favorites, and our selection represents every possible shape, size, and flavor. They all can be grown in the U.S. and, because they are heirlooms, they all have been passed down for a simple reason: They taste great. So what tomato is the best for you to grow?
We wish we could tell you, but it’s really impossible for us to say. What works here in Kansas, where summers are (usually) hot, hot, hot, will be a different tomato when grown in northern Minnesota or on the Oregon coast. Or in Louisiana for that matter, where the summers are also very hot. Tomatoes are affected by such a wide variety of factors that a great tomato in one location, or even in one summer, could be quite different in another place or season.
Flavor is also a matter of personal taste. Tomato flavor is a combination of sugars and acids; the proportion varies among varieties. Some people like mild, sweet tomatoes and others prefer the sharper flavor of a more acidic tomato. Again, the weather and soils can affect those qualities.
The fact is that choosing the best tomato is the work of many years of gardening. You have to figure out what grows best in your soil, your climate, and for your taste preferences.
Most veteran gardeners have their favorite tomatoes that they know to be reliable most years. For those gardeners, adding a new variety is a simple matter: Grow a few new plants alongside your old standby — keeping all other factors equal — and then compare the two. You may find you have a new favorite...or you may be disappointed by the trial variety and decide not to grow it again. In our garden, we try to give a new variety at least two seasons to prove itself because weather can have such a big effect on tomato productivity and flavor.
For those who are just beginning the journey as vegetable gardeners, we suggest you choose two or three varieties from each category (slicer, paste, and cherry tomatoes) and grow them under the same conditions. The differences in earliness, size, flavor, disease resistance and so on will be evident.
One word of advice: Use plant markers and keep records. We have been guilty of thinking in the excitement of spring planting that we will, of course, remember every detail about which varieties we planted where and which we picked first, etc. In truth, we always forget. So mark your plants well by variety and keep a notebook for recording your observations.