Tomato Trials

Each year I have a massive debate with myself over whether or not to grow tomatoes. There’s nothing to beat a freshly picked tomato off the vine, but our often indifferent summers leads to much reduced harvests. I had just one solitary cherry tomato one year.

Hardly the stuff of my tomato dreams. This year, my mind was cheerfully made up by the offer of a blight resistant cultivar to trial from Suttons. ‘Crimson Crush’ is a new introduction from them this year, bred using natural methods. On their website they say:

“This variety is unique in that it has two resistant genes to Phytopthera infestans (Late Blight), giving it full resistance to all strains of blight currently found in the UK. So if blight spores come into contact with the plant, the infection will not spread.

Note: plants can still show signs of infection (up to 10-15%) of stems, leaves etc. without affecting fruit quality or yield. Affected plants are able to grow away from the attack.”

So how did my plants do?

Naturally because I’m trialling a blight resistant tomato we’ve had an almost blight-free year, so I’ve not been able to test these claims. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised at how my plants shrugged off the relatively cold weather we had in June. ‘Crimson Crush’ is suitable for growing outdoors, so it’s bound to do well in a greenhouse.

I started harvesting in August and so far I’ve enjoyed kilos of medium sized fruit of 40 to 125 grammes in weight, with the promise of more to come. I’m also trialling a couple of composts this year, hence my knowledge of the weights I’ve obtained.

I’d say it’s a good all-round tomato with decent yields, sweet enough for a salad, yet tart and relatively seedless enough to make a flavoursome pasta sauce. However, it doesn’t beat my all-time salad favourite, ‘Sungold’.

I attended a tomato trials day at Thompson and Morgan recently, where the question of flavour was the main focus. They’ve been trialling some different composts this year and it was noticeable how much this can affect flavour, particularly sweetness. We also found the same variety grown outdoors was often more flavourful.

James Wong sheds some light on why this might be in his book “Grow for Flavour”. Apparently sugar content is dependent on the amount of light, and glasshouses can block up to 40% of the sun’s rays.

However, greenhouse-grown tomatoes are shielded for longer from the ravages of blight and plants usually crop much earlier. These factors are particularly advantageous to greenhouse growers in our (often) cooler and damper summers.

He goes on to say growing in soil is another key factor, probably because well-managed soils confer a greater access to a broader range of nutrients. So ditch those compost bags and create some open plots in your greenhouse if you haven’t done so already!

Which tomatoes did well on our tasting day?

‘Campari’ was the winner in the traditional tomato category i.e. those similar to ‘Shirley’. This was its first year in the trial, so expect to hear more about it soon. Another new cultivar, ‘Black Opal’ won the coloured tomato category.

‘Sweet Aperitif’ was again the clear winner of the cherry tomatoes. ‘Black Opal’ is a cross from this and another black cherry tomato, so it could be said that ‘Sweet Aperitif’ was a double winner on the day. I’ve heard good reports of this tomato from my gardening friends, so I’ll be trying it for myself next year.

Remember the above results depend on the taste preferences of the 15 of us drafted in as testers, plus the timing of the test itself. Tell us about your particular favourites in the Comments below.