A colorful mixture of cherry tomato varieties is a popular item at farmers' markets, farm stands, and supermarkets. Creating a rainbow mix elevates the humble cherry tomato to gourmet status and calls out for a taste comparison. Customers who buy a cherry tomato mix once will be back for more because these varieties really do offer different flavors as well as colors, and all of them are delicious.
At Johnny's research farm, we grew a mix of cherry tomato varieties that are all about the same size and ready to harvest simultaneously. The varieties we chose for our suggested mix are 'Black Cherry', 'White Cherry', 'Favorita', 'Sun Peach', 'Cherry Bomb', and 'Sun Gold'. All are indeterminate varieties and range 58 to 65 days to first harvest, and all the fruits are about 1¼" in diameter. (However, any selection of cherry or grape tomato varieties can make a good mix — choice is part of the magic of growing your own!)
The tomatoes were grown in a high tunnel with drip irrigation underneath ground cloth to eliminate weeds. Plants were spaced 12" to 14" in the row and pruned to create two vines, or leaders. Suckers were pruned off the plants as they grew. String was tied to the high-tunnel purlins, and the vines were trained onto the string utilizing tomato trellis clips.
If you plan to keep any indeterminate tomatoes all season in a high tunnel, you should leave extra string after attaching it to the purlin. Tomato plants can get so tall you will need to let the strings down late in the season to harvest the fruits — unless you want to pick from a ladder. Alternatively, consider using the trellising system known as lower and lean; this method provides a way to increase efficiency if you intend to keep your vines productive over time.
In the Johnny's trial, the high tunnel tomatoes had few pest or disease problems. Nor was pollination an issue; just walking through the high tunnel can vibrate the plants enough for them to pollinate themselves. The variety 'Sun Gold' is prone to cracking if it gets too much moisture, so we put a valve on the drip line to those plants and reduced the amount of water they received relative to the other varieties. In seeking to provide growers with an alternative solution, we additionally have subsequently bred 'Citrine', an orange cherry tomato variety that very closely approximates 'Sun Gold' but with less cracking.
Labor is the biggest issue with cherry tomatoes. They need to be picked every day or two for maximum yield, which makes them time-consuming, pound for pound, compared to regular tomatoes. But, cherries offer beauty, flavor, versatility in the kitchen, and convenient snackability — they are certainly an eye-catching produce item that pulls in customers.
Byczynski and her family have been growing vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through CSAs, at farmers' markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas.
She is also the author/editor of two of our favorite books about market farming, The Flower Farmer and The Hoophouse Handbook.