Though highly addictive, at least to me, cherry tomatoes are good for you—rich in calcium, iron, lycopene, and vitamins A & C. Easy to grow, many cherry tomato plants have a built-in resistance to some of the diseases that will kill a regular sized tomato plant. They are strong, fast growing, prolific plants and some will begin to fruit in less than 60 days from transplanting.
A new one that I will be on the lookout for is ‘Rambling Rose’, (see photo on right) it is reported to be a pink cherry tomato developed at the University of New Hambshire specifically for growing in containers.
Another of my container favorites is the purple cherry tomato called Indigo Rose. As you see in the picture these are purple to black in color and have an amazing, mouth water flavor that will keep you wanting more! Okay, you can to see the flavor in the photo but you know what I mean!
Most cherry tomatoes are indeterminate, which simply means that they are a vine that just doesn’t quit! They will keep on growing larger and larger, flowering all the while, and bearing fruit until the first frost kills them.
Supporting cherry tomato vines is necessary as they can get really big, really fast. One thing to keep in mind is that cherry tomatoes are vines. As vines they can get to be quite tall (which also means quite heavy) so they need to be supported.
There are lots of varieties to choose from. A few of my favorite cherry tomatoes are:
- ‘Sungold’ - These plants grow quite large and are one of the first to bear fruit in my garden. They continue to bear heavily until the first frost does them in. These bite-sized golden-orange beauties are the most delicious thing you can imagine. The only problem with ‘Sungold” is that their thin skin has a tendency to crack if watering is inconsistent or after a good rain shower.
- ‘Sun Sugar’ looks and tastes just like ‘Sungold’ but the fruits don’t split as easily.
- ‘Isis Candy’ has fruits that are marbled with red and gold and are very flavorful.
- ‘Chadwick’ and ‘Fox’ are both heirloom red cherry tomatoes that have tangy true tomato flavor and are vigorous growers.
- ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Black’ are two dark-skinned cherry varieties that have the rich flavor found in some of the black slicing tomatoes. They add a unique color as well as that wonderful flavor to any salad.
- ‘Sweet Treats’ has phenominal flavor and is a deep ruby red color. It is resistant to many if not most diseases.
- ‘Honeydrop’ has amber-colored fruit that lives up to its name. They are sweet as a drop of honey.
- ‘Red Current’ is a really tiny wild cherry tomato variety that has a flavor and an offering of nutrition that is tough to beat!
- ‘Juliet hybrid’ is my hands down favorite. It is sweet and delicious, plum shaped, and on a bite for bite basis is the most nutritionally dense tomato out there.
But what about tomato diseases?
I get asked that question all the time. It is like people think tomato disease is the next H1N1 bird flu or something worse. The truth is that most of the tomatoes will have some issues with disease, but you will never even notice it! Still I understand the concern but growing cherry tomatoes really cuts down on the disease issues you need to concern yourself with as they are all very disease resistant.
Let’s finish off this post by looking at tomato diseases in general and how to overcome your fear of them!
Blossom-end rot usually begins as a sunken spot on the blossom end of the fruit which turns black and leathery as it grows larger. Often you don’t notice it until you go to pick the tomato and find that the bottom half has rotted away—not a nice surprise! It is actually physiological disorder (for the tomato plant and often a psychological problem for the gardener!) rather than a disease caused when the plant has trouble extracting enough calcium from the soil because moisture levels are too high or too low. There can be plenty of calcium in the soil, but the plants are incapable of utilizing it properly. Stressed plants divert the little calcium they have away from the fruit and send it to the shoots to keep them growing. Along with uneven moisture, excessive nitrogen and high soil acidity can contribute to blossom end rot. The best way to prevent it is to mulch your plants to keep the area around the roots consistently moist. Since blossom-end rot is the most common problem people ask me about I will go into it a bit more further along in this post.
Sometimes dark patches will appear on the plant stems and on the stem end of the fruit. A few years back I had one ‘Early Goliath’ plant that showed signs of early blight but it kept on keeping on, with plenty of tomatoes forming, and it kept on blossoming until the first freeze did it’s damage. All I really did to care for it was to pluck off the infected lower leaves and it keep it watered.
Late blight, if it hits your garden is terminal.
One year I got it early in the season and watched helplessly as it turned all the plants and fruits to disgusting mush, practically overnight. You can track the spread of late blight across the country at the website usablight.org. Though most of the varieties I grow tend to be heirlooms I also grow some hybrid tomatoes for their disease resistance. I have some friend in the Northeast trying ‘Mountain Magic’ this year which is bred to resist both early and late blight.
Anthracnose & Fungal Diseases
Anthracnose damages just the fruit with its 1/4 to 1/2 inch spots. Septoria is another fungus causing small brown spots with black centers to appear on the older leaves. Eventually they turn yellow and fall off. To prevent all fungal diseases be scrupulous when cleaning up plant debris in the fall. All old leaves and fruit, especially those that were affected by disease should be removed from the garden and disposed of in the trash rather going to the compost pile.
Many tomato varieties are bred for disease resistance. Verticillium and fusarium are two wilt-causing diseases that have no cure. When shopping for tomato seed, look for the letters V and F after the variety name indicating resistance to those diseases.
Other letters are code for tolerance to other diseases: an A means the plant is resistant to alternaria, LB stands for late blight, EB early blight, N is for nematodes, T is tobacco mosaic virus, St is stemphylium leaf spot, Tswv is tomato spotted wilt virus, and Tylc is tomato yellow leaf curl virus.
As promised above, here is a bit more on blossom-end rot:
“What is Blossom-End Rot?” That is a question I am asked many times every growing season. Rather than answering the question directly I usually ask a question in returen, “Hare you every grown tomatoes that look great until you pick them and notice rotting on the bottom?”
Calcium deficiency during fruit formation can also be caused by too much nitrogen fertilizer, high salt levels in the soil, or damage to plant roots during cultivation. Be aware of these causes when caring for tomatoes in order to prevent blossom-end rot.
Some blossom-end rot is more or less normal in the first tomatoes of the season, since the plants are usually under stress during the initial fruit set. If the damaged portion is small, you can trim it off and enjoy the rest of the tomato. Hopefully the problem will ease, because after all, no one wants rotten tomatoes!
You can identify blossom-end rot damage pretty easily. Usually it occurs when the fruit is green or is just ripening. It starts with a small, depressed, water-soaked area on the blossom end of the fruit. As the spot enlarges, it becomes sunken and turns black or dark leathery brown in color.
But take heart my friends, you can control and prevent this common problem.
First understand that this issue is about the plants uptake of calcium and not about the amount of calcium in the soil. Many a website tells you to add calcium (often in the form of crushed eggshells) to your soil to solve the problem. This is not bad for the soil, I even add crushed eggshells to my compost to boost the calcium in the soil I produce. But the problem is not about the amount of calcium in the soil but about the amount in the plant. If the plant can not pick up and use the calcium in the soil then adding calcium to the soil will not do anything at all – except possibly frustrate you!
- The first thing you need to do is to remove the affected fruit. There is not much that can be done once the rot sets in so cut your losses and the affected fruit. If the affected fruit is pinched off, the plant might blossom again and set normal fruit.
- Next, I would apply a liquid calcium fertilizer after removing the affected fruit. I would recommend a low nitrogen fertilizer as too much nitrogen in the soil can add to the blossom-end rot problem. When you do use a fertilizer, use nitrate nitrogen instead of ammoniacal nitrogen (as the latter is what really increases the chances of blossom-end rot). Avoid over-fertilizing during early fruiting, when blossom-end rot is more likely to occur.
- The key in dealing with blossom-end rot is prevention and that means soil preparation. Maintain a soil pH around 6.5 to 7.5 if possible. Lime the soil to increase the ratio of calcium ions to other competitive ions in the soil if lime is in short supply in your area. In my central Texas garden that is not an issue and I never add lime as most of Texas sits on a massive limestone shelf. In fact, I have heard it said that there is so much limestone under our feet in Texas that we could benefit from a thousand years of acid rain! Not a goal I want to achieve. But if you feel that your soil is lacking calcium then go ahead and add crushed eggshells, gypsum, or bone meal to the transplant hole to fortify calcium intake if it makes you feel better, but honestly, I usually find that there is plenty of calcium already in the soil.
- Now, be sure to maintain a uniform moisture supply. Do not over water or underwater as both can create issues. Use mulches and/or irrigation to avoid drought stress. If it’s rainy, ensure plants have good drainage and soil dries out (but do not cease to water). Overall, plants need about once inch of moisture per week in most parts of the country. During my triple digit heat Texas summers, I usually figure on giving my plants about 1 ½ - 2 inches of water per week. Adjust for your area and weather conditions.
- Also, you should avoid cultivating, or hoeing, near the roots of tomato plants as this disturbance can increase the issue.
- Staking the plants when they’re young can also be helpful.
However, growing tomatoes is all about avoiding some common pitfalls that can trip you up along the way. Knowing what to expect and what to do about it will greatly improve your chances of a truly terrific crop of tomatoes.