Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
March, 2006
Regional Report

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Grape tomatoes are a tasty addition to the garden, and a section of livestock panel makes a great trellis for supporting their vines.

Give Grape Tomatoes a Try

If you haven't grown grape tomatoes before, you should give them a try this spring. The term grape tomato refers to small cherry type varieties with an oblong or grape-like shape. Since their appearance on the gardening scene a few years ago, they have grown rapidly in popularity.

Grape tomatoes are love at first bite. Their smaller size makes them ideal for mouth poppin' snacking. They have a firm texture and a unique tomato flavor. Kids even love them because some grape varieties are sweeter than most cherry types.

Grapes should be grown with the same general care as any other tomato. Work a cup of complete fertilizer per 10 feet of row into the soil prior to planting. Water the new transplants in well with a soluble plant food, and then when the first fruits set begin to feed them once or twice a week.

I've tried growing about a dozen different varieties over the past few years and found that most do very well in the garden. Most grape varieties bear 1/2- to 3/4-ounce fruit about 1 to 1-1/4 inches in diameter. One of my favorite tomatoes is the 1999 All America Selection 'Juliet', which is actually a bit large to be considered a true grape. 'Juliet' fruit is twice the size of a true grape tomato. It's sweet and tasty with an oblong shape, so I include it in the grape-type group anyway.

Some varieties that did well in our trials include 'Red Grape', 'Tami-G' (also sold as 'Agriset'), and 'Sweet Olive', which was a top performer in our trials. Trials in other parts of the country including Indiana and North Carolina have rated 'Sweet Olive' as among the more flavorful varieties. Fruit is oblong with slightly flattened sides.

Most grape types are indeterminate and can really sprawl. A standard tomato cage is fine if you can make it tall enough. I prefer to grow them on a trellis. 'Sweet Olive', however, is a determinate type that bears its harvest early. It is therefore well suited to growing in a large container.

Grape types, like other cherry tomatoes, produce well in the heat, although the skin can get tough.

Give grapes a try in your garden this year. They are a tasty addition to those delicious slicers in the tomato patch. I must add, however, that grape tomatoes -- like sugar snap peas -- are "gardener food." They are too tasty to resist when working out in the garden. So if you hope to make it back to the kitchen with some, you'd better put in several plants.

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