Tomatoes are one of the most common crops to grow in a polytunnel garden. There are a wide range of cherry tomato varieties you could consider, not to mention all the other tomato types. Having an undercover growing area makes it far easier to grow these warm weather plants successfully. But if you are new to growing tomatoes, or even if you have grown tomatoes before, you may be confused by all the different options. Which tomato varieties should you grow?
First of all, you will need to decide what type of tomato you would like to grow. You could grow traditional medium-sized, round, red fruits. You could consider interesting varietals in a range of different colours and shapes. Alternatively, you could grow plum tomatoes, or larger beefsteak types. But in this article, we’ll take a look at the range of smaller tomatoes, commonly known as cherry tomatoes. These are generally an excellent option for polytunnel home growers.
What is a Cherry Tomato?
Cherry tomatoes are smaller in size than the fruits of other tomato varieties. These small, round or slightly oblong tomatoes are believed to be an intermediate genetic admixture between domesticated garden tomatoes and their wild currant-type cousins. Cherry tomatoes are often bright red when fully ripe. But you will also find varieties with yellow, white, green and black fruits.
When looking to buy cherry tomatoes, you will have to decide whether you are interested in collecting the seeds to grow the plant again in your polytunnel next year. If you do wish to do so, it is important to choose a heritage type, rather than an F1 hybrid, that will not come true from seed. Some cherry tomatoes are heritage and others are hybrid. It will be important to know which is which if you want to grow them from seed you collect. Certain hybrids, however, may have characteristics that will be beneficial – such as better blight resistance, for example.
Why Grow Cherry Tomatoes?
You may be wondering why you should grow these smaller fruits, when you could be growing tomatoes which form larger fruits. There are a number of reasons why choosing cherry tomato varieties could be a good idea. For example:
Cherry tomatoes often taste great. They often win tomato taste tests, and rack up high sugar ratings.
These fruity little tomatoes are more likely than bigger tomatoes to be eaten raw, with all their nutrients intact. This makes them very nutritious – a very healthy crop to grow.
Most cherry tomato varieties are cordon types, with vining growth habit. Cordoning tomatoes is a good way to make the most of the space and maximise yield.
The small blossoms on cherry tomato varieties also means they tend to set fruit better in hot or cold weather compared to larger-fruited varieties. This is because the pollen has to travel a shorter distance for good pollination to occur. Again, this can mean an increased yield.
Disease tolerance is often good with cherry tomato varieties – some even resist late blight.
The small fruits mean that plants can more easily provide them with the nutrition they need, so problems like blossom end rot are a rare event with cherry tomato varieties.
Interesting Cherry Tomato Varieties to Consider
One of the great things about growing cherry tomatoes is that there are so many varied and interesting varieties to consider. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are ten cherry tomato varieties that you might like to consider:
This cherry is often described as one of the sweetest and tastiest cherry tomato varieties around. It is a popular heritage variety and one of the most highly regarded of the cherry types of tomato. Best grown as a cordon variety, Gardener’s Delight plants reach a height of around 2m. The small cherry tomatoes are produced on trusses and reach around 2cm across. Under cover, these will produce an earlier crop but they can also be grown outside. They tend to fruit between July and October.
This new cherry tomato variety, bred a few years ago by Tony Haig. It was named for its amazing flavour, which is said to be even better than gardeners’ delight. Not only does it have great flavour, however, it also performs very well, with very good productivity. It produces hundreds of small tomatoes with a delicious taste combining sweetness and acidity.
This is an extremely popular hybrid tomato variety. These plants produce extremely sweet fruits. Their thin golden skins are inclined to crack if left too late, but otherwise are extremely reliable, which makes them a favourite with many gardeners. These were developed by Japanese breeder Tokita Seed Company and introduced to the UK gardener in the early 1990s. While the parent plants for Sungold, as for other hybrids, are a carefully guarded secret, there is speculation that the famous Brandywine heirloom tomato is amongst them.
An heirloom alternative, perhaps, to the popular hybrid variety, Sungold, this super-sweet and super early, yellow tomato variety comes from Siberia and could be a good choice for those who want all kinds of tomatoes in a variety of different colours. With these tomatoes you can make a great yellow tomato soup or yellow tomato ketchup – for something a bit out of the ordinary. Galina produces an abundance of fruits of around 3cm in diameter in bunches on tall plants. These potato leaf foliage plants grow to around 1.2m in height and the fruits do not fall off when ripe which makes harvesting easier. Galina can be harvested early and will continue to fruit for longer than other varieties, perhaps bearing even until November.
This pretty little cherry tomato takes its name from the fact that it has high levels of an amino acid said to have a calming effect on the physiology. Bundles of cherry tomatoes form on trusses and are great to use in a number of different ways in the kitchen or straight from the vine. Peacevine cherry tomatoes grow to maturity in 69-80 days. The small, red fruits reach a size of around 2cm in diameter. The indeterminate vines will grow to a final height of around 1m in height, though these will need plenty of support, especially as fruits begin to form.
A bright red cherry tomato, this is said to have a fantastic flavour. It was bred by eccentric horticulturist Alan Chadwick, who, in his fifties, decided to give up his career as a Shakespearean actor in South Africa and created and took on the University of Santa Cruz’s farm and garden project in California. As well as inspiring many, he created this delicious tomato. Chadwick cherry tomatoes will grow to maturity in around 80 days. The fruits are slightly larger than true cherry tomatoes – approximately 0.2-0.3kg in weight and are produced in abundance. Fruits lose their flavour slightly as the season wanes but are tasty eaten straight from the vine in late summer.
Rosella tomatoes are unique amongst cherry tomatoes for their deep red-pink colour and fruity taste. The fruits have a good mix of sugars and acidity, with a rich fruitiness that reminds of summer fruits like blackberries and raspberries. They ripen between July and October.
Selected and bred for years by mountain market gardener Jen Bonyck, this is an interesting variety that reliably produces a good quantity of brilliant orange tomatoes. The fruits are quite large for a cherry tomato, around 1 ½ inches across, and have a well balanced flavour. They are produced in abundance over a really long season.
This is a another of the very sweet cherry tomato varieties to consider. This one as fruits with a deep, rich purple-brown colour. The unusual colour sets this variety apart. But it is not the only reason to consider it. The flavour is also especially good, and you should reliably get 6-8 fruits per truss. If you are looking for something that looks a little different to liven up your salads, this could be a good option to consider.
Snow berry is a heritage variety that produces the palest creamy-yellow fruits. This is a very productive variety that has long trusses that can each bear up to 50 fruits. This variety should do well in the polytunnel, and the fruits not only look interesting but also have a good flavour.
Of course there are also plenty of other cherry tomato varieties to consider. In addition to the above, you might also want to consider interesting tumbling tomato varieties, that are great for hanging baskets. You might also want to think about new centiflor tomatoes – these have multi-branched trusses with hundreds of flowers around two feet across, and bear many ¾ inch tomatoes in grape-like clusters.
Have some fun experimenting and growing a range of different cherry tomatoes in your polytunnel. And let us know how you get on in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.