10 Neat Things About Tomatoes
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

June 27, 2010

  1. V, F, N, A and T. A combination of these letters, which stand for verticillium, fusarium, nematodes, alternaria and tobacco mosaic virus, appears after the variety name of a tomato in catalogues to indicate which common tomato afflictions the variety is resistant to. Verticillium, fusarium and alternaria are fungal diseases, nematodes are tiny ringworm parasites and tobacco mosaic virus is (surprise) a virus. All of these persist in the soil from year to year, so if your tomatoes have suffered any of these pathogens in the past, best to plant varieties that are resistant.
  2. Disease-resistant heirlooms. Heirloom tomatoes, as older varieties, have been around long enough for different pathogens to figure out how to attack them. Tomato hybridizers put much effort into developing disease-resistant strains. Many heirloom lovers, though, find a greater choice of colours, shapes and flavours in heirloom varieties; they're willing to put in extra effort to prevent disease for those benefits.
  3. Giants. There are many big tomatoes. 'Hillbilly', a sweet variety that is yellowy orange with red streaks, produces fruit in the one- to two-pound range. So does 'Big Rainbow', which takes its name from a red and gold mottling inside the fruit. "Beefsteak", by the way, is both a cultivar name and a general description for very large, multi-channelled tomatoes.
  4. Plums. The difference between plum tomatoes and slicing tomatoes is that plums are fleshier, less juicy and with fewer seeds, making them better for cooking into sauces. Although some plums tend toward mealy, they certainly can be eaten sliced; in fact, they may be preferable for sandwiches going into a lunch bag because they have less juice to make the bread gooey.
  5. 'Mortgage Lifter'. Another giant variety, this was popularized by a radiator repairman named M. C. Byles who found himself in desperate straits during the Depression when his repair business was failing. He sold the plants for a dollar apiece-a high price at the time-justifying the cost by saying the two-pound fruits could feed a family of six. He managed to pay off his house in four years.
  6. Burpee. This name has nothing to do with the gas-producing probability of varieties. Burpee tomatoes are those that were developed by W. Atlee Burpee, founder of Burpee Seeds. Many vegetable strains were developed during his time, the most famous, perhaps, being iceberg lettuce.
  7. 'Fuzzy Peach'. This heirloom variety is yellow with a red blush and fuzzy skin. Apparently the flavour is pleasant but delicate and the skin is unpalatably thick, but these tomatoes look just like very small peaches.
  8. UglyRipe. This is a commercial variety that made the news over the past few years because the Florida Tomato Committee would not allow it to be exported from the state for sale because it didn't meet aesthetic standards. The tomato is a perfectly common orangey-red colour but it is deeply ridged, from top to bottom. Ridges of this type are known as "cat-facing" and considered a flaw in tomatoes that are supposed to be smooth. The funny thing is, it is believed that the original species tomato was ridged, not smooth.
  9. 'Green Zebra'. A green tomato with yellow stripes, this cultivar looks like an heirloom tomato but was actually developed in the 1980s by American breeder Tom Wagner. Those who like it say the flavour is zingy; others find it too acidic. It is certainly pretty.
  10. Finding heirlooms. Few heirloom varieties are marketed by the big growers so they can be difficult to find as nursery stock. Your best bet is to look for seed exchanges and start your own plants indoors. If you find a great source of heirloom tomato plants for sale somewhere. give me a call!

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