Prolific Cherry Tomatoes

By Charlie Nardozzi

Everyone loves fresh, sun-warmed, homegrown tomatoes. However, if you only have room for a few plants, make sure one of them is a cherry tomato. Cherry tomatoes are one of the most popular types of tomatoes grown because they are so sweet and prolific. These colorful fruits are produced in abundance with little effort. They are used in salads, soups, casseroles, and grilled, but mostly they are snacked on in the garden.

If you want to introduce gardening to your kids or grandkids, cherry tomatoes are the way to go. The plants grow quickly and mature within two months of transplanting. Kids love to pick and munch on the fruits right in the garden. The tomatoes often don't make it to the kitchen. But that's a good thing because you'll know your kids are getting introduced to a healthy, nutritious snack that will help them appreciate homegrown vegetables for years to come.

Here are some of the best cherry tomato varieties to grow in your garden this summer and some tips on how to grow them.

Some Colorful Cherry Tomato Varieties

There are many varieties of cherry tomatoes available with fruits ranging in color from yellow to black. Which variety you grow is a matter of personal preference. All the varieties listed below are indeterminate, unless otherwise noted. Here are some of the best to try.

'Black Cherry' - This uniquely colored cherry tomato features fruits with a rich, earthy, complex taste. Not as sweet as other varieties, but more diverse in its flavor.

'Small Fry' Hybrid - This red cherry tomato variety has smaller sized fruits than other varieties, but tomatoes are produced abundantly on tall plants.

'Sugary' Hybrid - A large, reddish pink oval-shaped cherry tomato with a point on the blossom end. The plant is semideterminate so it's more compact than other varieties.

'Sungold' Hybrid - This very sweet and fruity-tasting orange cherry tomato produces long clusters of fruits.

'Sweet Baby Girl' Hybrid - This flavorful, red cherry tomato is unique because the plants are compact, yet they produce fruits all season long.

'Sweet Million' Hybrid - A classic red cherry tomato variety that features tasty fruits with better crack resistance than other varieties.

'Yellow Canary' Hybrid - This dwarf plant can be grown in a container. The plant produces a small crop of golden yellow cherry tomatoes with a sweet and tangy flavor. Good for patios and decks.

Cherry Tomato Growing Tips

If you can grow regular-sized tomatoes, cherry tomatoes are a snap. They grow under similar conditions but tend to produce more fruit and are easier to grow than large-sized tomatoes. Here's a refresher on how to grow tomatoes.

Before planting, amend the soil with a 2- to 3-inch-thick layer of compost. Tomatoes like the heat. Wait until your soil is at least 60 degrees F to transplant seedlings into the garden. In cool summer areas, lay red plastic mulch on the tomato beds before planting and poke holes in the plastic to plant. The plastic heats up the soil and helps retain soil moisture, while the red color can increase yields up to 20 percent.

Transplant seedlings 2 feet apart. For leggy transplants, bury the stem in the soil to just below the top set of true leaves. The stem will form roots that will take in more water and nutrients for the plant. Most cherry tomato varieties are indeterminate so they will continue growing until pests, disease, or frost kills them. Place tomato cages around transplants. Make or buy cages that are large enough to support 6-foot-tall plants loaded with fruit.

Keep the plants weeded, watered, and fertilized. Water deeply a few times a week instead of every day to encourage roots to grow deeper into the soil. If using plastic mulch, consider placing a soaker hose under the plastic to keep the soil moist. Apply a side-dressing of a balanced organic fertilizer, such as 5-5-5, once a month during the growing season. Mulch with a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of straw if not using plastic mulch. Proper watering and mulching will help prevent fruit cracking.

Watch for common tomato pests such as tomato hornworm and foliar diseases. Hand-pick hornworms or spray with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Prevent fungal leaf diseases by watering only in the morning, mulching, and picking off infected leaves as they develop.


Root Maggots on Radishes

Q: How can I stop root maggots from ruining my radish crop?

A: Root maggots are the larvae form of an adult fly that lays its eggs on the soil surface at the base of plants. The eggs hatch and the larvae tunnel into the roots. Radish root maggots also love cabbage family crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower.

To reduce root maggot damage, sprinkle a generous amount of hardwood ash from your fireplace or wood stove, sharp sand, or diatomaceous earth on your garden bed before planting. These sharp-edged materials deter the soft maggot larvae. Also, spray beneficial nematodes on the bed to control these ground-dwelling maggots. Rotate crops so you don't grow radishes where any member of the cabbage family has grown in the last three years.

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