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Think small when growing tomatoes.

My romance with small toma- toes began in the wintertime in an unromantic place-the supermarket. The cherry tomatoes were the only ones with any flavor on the produce shelf. What's good in a carton, I reasoned, must be sensational in the garden.

My hunch proved right, and I now grow various little ones for salads, relegating my larger tomatoes mainly to stuffing and cooking or slicing for sandwiches. My experience seems to be shared by more and more people, judging from the increasing abundance of small tomatoes at parties, in salad bars, and in listings in seed catalogs. Tests conducted on some small ones indicated that they had twice the concentration of vitamin C than in the larger varieties.

A cherry tomato even made it to the Reagan-Gorbachev Moscow summit, meriting a line to itself on a banquet menu.

The latest seed catalogs have a dazzling number of small tomatoes on display. They range in taste from mild to very sweet and in size from three quarters of an inch to two inches, and they come in numerous shapes and various shades of red or yellow. The Tomato Growers Supply Company of Fort Myers, Florida, which deals exclusively in tomato seeds, offers no fewer than 19 cultivars, including a dwarf named Florida Petite that needs only a four-inch pot. Another, Florida Basket, is a lowgrowing plant ideal for a hanging planter.

My favorite is Yellow Pear, a cultivar with a tantahzing blend of tart and sweet. But I also keep trying others for variety and contrast. The sweetest I've grown is Sweet Million.

Talking with breeders, I learned that the sprightlier flavor of the small fruit is due to its higher concentration of sugars and acids. The tiny currant tomato, hard to find nowadays, may strike one as so rich it needs dilution.

One reason for the proliferation of small tomatoes is their suitability for small gardens or container growing on patios or apartment balconies. If space is severely restricted, gardeners should select "determinate" varieties. These bush tomatoes are relatively short-branched plants that set fruit for a limited period. They can grow much closer in the row and don't need staking.

Among them are Pixie II, Gold Nugget, Tiny Tim. Some dwarfs, such as Florida Petite or Red Robin, are only eight inches to one foot tall.

"Indeterminate" varieties, on the other hand, are vining plants that gobble up territory and keep producing fruit until frost. Yellow Pear is one of these, and so are Sweet 100, Sweet Million, and Sweet Chelsea.

Catalogs are increasingly identifying tomatoes as "determinate" of "indeterminate" to facilitate your choice. Some fanciers say the "indeterminates" taste better. If you have a small garden and want to try an indeterminate," sharp pruning will squeeze it in.

For more information on small to:matoes, write to the Post, Box 567, Indianapolis, IN 46206.
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Author:Bria, George
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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