An indigo cherry tomato grows in columnist Tom Atwell’s garden. Photo by Tom Atwell

I have a new favorite tomato, a black cherry type that is both bountiful and delicious. Somewhat typically, though, I lost the label and had no idea what my new favorite was.

One of the many advantages of buying local is that I can wander down to Ocean House Farm in Cape Elizabeth, about a quarter mile from our home, where Greer Jordan – grandson of founder Norm Jordan and son of current owner Greg Jordan – was able to tell me it’s an Indigo Cherry.

Growing the new favorite has been easy, but figuring out when to eat it was tougher. It started green, then developed a bit of black and soon turned all black. I tasted it then, but it was hard and mostly tasteless. But when a red skin mostly overtook the black, the tomato was absolutely delicious.

My previous favorite, which I thought I still grew but Jordan corrected me, was Sun Gold. It’s a wonderfully tasty cherry tomato, but had the unfortunate habit of splitting as the season progressed. What I am now growing, Jordan told me, is Sun Sugar, another golden cherry tomato with great sweetness and flavor. Happily, this variety doesn’t split.

You might wonder why my favorite tomatoes are both cherry-sized. That’s easy – because I am impetuous, impatient and lazy.

The cherry tomatoes start ripening earlier than the full-size ones. We’ve been eating Sun Sugars since July 15, Black Indigos since July 22, and by August 1 had just a single slicing tomato – that from a plant that grows in full sun in a pot on our front steps. That covers the impatience.

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It is a lot easier to eat a cherry tomato in the garden. That covers impetuous. And why bother with slicing, anyway? It’s extra work.

I asked Jordan if Indigo Cherry was an heirloom variety. He said I could call it that if I wanted. According to him, the definitions don’t mean much.

Jordan said his favorite tomatoes are Big Beef and Beefsteak, large slicing types. He added that he’d recommend Mainers avoid varieties like Brandywine, which take about 100 days from planting to picking. Maine’s season isn’t long enough for those.

Ocean House Farm grew about 35 varieties of tomato seedlings this year, Jordan said, but will reduce the selection to 20 next year. I pulled in to the stand in late June and bought three tomato seedlings for $1 each – a bargain because they were left over. The pots those seedlings grow in cost 35 cents, so if you factor in labor, Jordan was losing money.

“We just hope that after buying the $1 tomato seedlings, customers saw something else they liked and bought that,” he said.

That worked on me. My wife Nancy and I spied some annuals that day that we just had to have.

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Indigo cherry tomatoes ripen in columnist Tom Atwell’s garden. The variety is bountiful and delicious and is Atwell’s new favorite. Photo by Tom Atwell

Jordan listed several tricks to growing good tomatoes.

First, plant them deeply. Sink the pot an inch or two lower in the soil than the level the plant is growing in the pot. The tomato seedling will send out more roots from the buried stem and create a healthier plant.

He also recommends putting Epsom salts on tomato plants. They promote growth, improve flavor and provide magnesium and sulfur, micronutrients that prevent the plants’ leaves from turning yellow. The salts are OK for organic gardens. You’ll also want regular garden fertilizer, but not one that is high in nitrogen, as that would promote more leaves, not fruit.

Next, cut off suckers – the smaller of the side shoots, from the main tomato stem. Doing so will increase the size and number of tomatoes that the plant produces.

With my Black Indigo, Sun Sugar and, eventually, the slicers that will be ripening, the next two months will be full of tomatoes – my favorite dining of the year.

The fact that there will also be corn on the cob – which we don’t grow, but buy locally – only increases the enjoyment.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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