This year, we planted new varieties of tomatoes with more intention than in previous years when we simply chose what was available that suited our purpose. We are also keeping much more detailed records. If we are to be serious about growing our own food efficiently and sustainably, we must make a conscious effort to choose varieties that meet our needs best and begin a serious program of seed saving.

Because we are interested in seed-saving, we chose open-pollinated varieties for our garden. We also planted and kept records on some seeds we did not choose. I decided to plant some Red Cherry tomato seeds I got a few years ago in one of those survival canisters of vegetable seeds and some Black Vernissage and Black Russian seeds I got as a free gift when I ordered from Baker Creek last year, so they are included in the review. I planted them in our light tent in January to give me something to do while I wiled away the winter.

Black Vernissage

Source: Baker Creek. Date Planted: 1/24/19 in 1-inch peat pots in a tray with a cover in the light tent.  Germination rate: 100% Date Repotted: 2/22/19 Transplanted to 1 gallon pot, returned to light tent for a week, then put it in the window. Largest and sturdiest-looking of the varieties planted on the same date.  Date Transplanted 5/13. We transplanted earlier than we liked because the tomatoes were just getting too big in their pots. They did not like being transplanted despite spending over a week hardening them off.  I planted them along a fence line for support. They immediately started looking stressed, with shriveled leaves with brown edges and did not recover quickly.  Date of first harvest 5/27.

20190814_115107Our first taste of the Black Vernissage tomatoes was not very exciting. The flesh was almost crunchy and the flavor a bit sour. The tomatoes had begun forming inside the house and finished ripening outside, so we gave them the benefit of the doubt and tried again later. The tomatoes themselves are small, but not quite cherry small. I understand this is called “saladette”.

Later in the season the flavor began to improve. Ultimately, I found them to be seedy, meaty and not very juicy with a mild tomato flavor.  We will try these again next year, but we certainly aren’t going to start them so early.

Purple Russian

20190806_172941Source: Baker Creek. Date Planted: 1/24/19 in 1-inch peat pots in a tray with a humidity cover in the light tent.  Germination rate: 80% Date Repotted: 2/22. Transplanted into 1 gallon pot, returned to light tent for a week, then placed in South window.  This is the weakest-looking of the plants planted on the same date. Date Transplanted  5/13 They looked pretty pathetic for about a week. Some, I think aren’t going to make it, but some began recovering shortly thereafter. I provided bamboo stakes for support, but this was a mistake. They are incredibly floppy and firmly resisted the bamboo stakes’ efforts to hold them up. I did pick tomatoes off these all year starting mid-July, but many were split. I think I overwatered them. They made a good sauce, but I had to cut off half the fruits. The geese like them. I am sad they didn’t work out and am considering making some changes and trying again next year, though I’m not sure I’ll be in the mood.

Red Cherry

Source: I don’t remember (old). Date Planted: 1/24/19 in 1-inch peat pots in a tray with a humidity cover in the light tent.  Germination rate: 90% Date Repotted: 2/22. Transplanted into 1 gallon pot, returned to light tent for a week, then placed in South window.   Date Transplanted out 5/13. These were given a variety of support types, including stakes, strings run between posts and fencing. Of all the tomatoes planted out on this date (5/13), these showed the least shock and quickest recovery. They continued producing from mid-July through to the frost and there were still some red gems out there after the frost. But Penelope (the silkie) loves cherry tomatoes and she gets the front garden once the frost comes and that was the end of them. Their flavor was mild. Nothing remarkable. I apparently didn’t take a picture. Sorry.

Black Krim

Date Started 4/14/19  Date Transplanted: 6/14

20190910_204901These are among my favorite tomatoes and they didn’t disappoint. Nice, fat maters with rich flavor, plenty of juice, not too many seeds, great for cooking or fresh eating. They are also among the ugliest of tomatoes; a strange color with stranger shapes. They catface, and crack, and do all sorts of weird mutatey things, and they don’t start ripening till pretty late in the year, late August/early September, but I love them anyway.


Date Started 4/14/19  Date Transplanted: 6/14

20190821_183015I am not sure what I expected from these, something big and obnoxious, along the lines of a yellow Krim, maybe, but they turned out to be pretty blushing golden globes. The skins split a bit but not too bad. The flavor is light and fruity and the fruits were meaty without a lot of seeds. They might make a nice juicing tomato, but we ate them fresh, on toast, with mayonnaise and a fried egg. Heaven.

San Marzano

Date Started 4/4/19  in 3 inch pots.  Date Transplanted: 6/14/19 in the Southeast garden adjacent to a fence-trellis that runs North to South. 4 plants were transplanted.

20190919_125149They produced a lot of immature tomatoes right away, but the plants never looked healthy and the tomatoes took forever to ripen; early October! The ripe tomatoes were fat and tasty. We got in about 1/4 bushel of these which made a lovely sauce but the majority of the tomatoes these plants produced ended up in my green tomato salsa.


Date Started  4/14/19 in 3 inch pots. Transplanted 6/14/19 into the Southeast garden. 6 plants were planted.

20190928_120923These started ripening a full three weeks before San Marzano did and filled my bucket every few days for weeks. The fruits are smaller than San Marzano, but denser and with far fewer seeds. The plants ran rampant and nearly knocked over the fencerow trellis I made for them. I lost a lot to slugs because so many of them ended up on the ground.


Date Started  4/14/19

20190919_180439One experimental Marglobe was started 1/24, repotted 2/22 and planted out with the rest on 5/13 in a tomato cage. It was dying in the pot but recovered quickly after being planted outside. Two more were planted in tomato cages. The earlier plant only put on fruit about two weeks before the later planted ones in early September and it was a giant pain in the butt, so early planting is definitely not worth it. There were quite a few tomatoes on these and they are very much like those you find in a grocery store. Round, red, mild, juicy.

Pink Brandywine20190830_185427

Date Planted 4/14/19  Planted out 5/13. Only one of my starts survived to be transplanted out and I planted it too close to the goose yard fence and the geese got some of them. In the end, we got a total of five nice tomatoes beginning 8/5. The flavor is sweet and acidic and very juicy. These are my husband’s favorite tomatoes and I think we plant these every year.

The Verdict

The cherries, black vernissage, Opalka, pineapple and black Krim were big winners for productivity. Brandywine is always going to be in our garden because it tastes amazing, even though it is something of a delicate flower. Pineapple and Black Krim are also big flavor winners while Opalka is tops for sauce.

The red cherries are nice, but I think we can do better as far as flavor, so we’ll try something different next year and I’m not excited about the flavor of the black vernissage, though it produced like crazy. I am on the fence abou tit. I will not bother with San Marzano again and I probably won’t bother with the Marglobe again either. It was okay, but meh.

Black Russian makes me sad.

Next year I’m going to see how Amish Paste stands up against Opalka, as I really want a secondary sauce tomato and we’ll experiment with some different cherries.

Lessons Learned

We watered WAY too much. We had slugs, fungus and splits that I think I just made so much worse by obsessively watering the garden. I’ve done some research and I’ve learned that wilting is how plants conserve water, they close off the pores in their leaves and they get droopy. Wilting is OK. It is not a sign of severe stress, it’s just a sign of thirst. From now on, I am going to wait until my tomatoes tell me they are thirsty to water them.

Also, we did not prune enough. Honestly, I think I put too much on my plate this year and everything suffered.

We tried several different methods of supporting tomatoes this year:

  1. Running strings on either side between two 4x4s and planting tomatoes in the middle.  Lesson- don’t use paracord, it just droops as the weight increases until you end up with tomatoes and paracord on the ground.  I know. It’s obvious, right. Next year, twine all the way.
  2. Wire tomato cages- These work well, but they will fall over in the wind when they are full of tomato. Tying it to a T-post pounded well in prevents this.
  3. Bamboo stakes. No. Just no.
  4. Wire fencing between T-posts. This works well if you’re planting in rows. We planted tomatoes on one side and other things like beets on the other. One thing I would change for the future is to make sure that the fence is wide enough to get your hand through so you can pick, prune, etc. from either side. Of course, we were using leftover fencing from bird pens and gardens that needed to have more narrow openings, so we’re not actually going to do that, but if I were buying fencing just for tomato supports, that’s what I’d buy.





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