My Favorite Tomato

20150402CFor many years, I experimented more with tomatoes than really growing them for eating. Every year I used to plant 3 or 4 varieties – new introductions, heritage varieties, oddities, etc. – then the next year I’d sow 3 or 4 different ones. I really enjoyed trialing them, but now my garden space is limited and, even though I sometimes still try a promising new variety, I’m sticking more to tried-and-true varieties that gave me satisfaction… and ‘Sungold’ (also spelled’ Sun Gold ‘) is at the top of that list.

Of all the tomatoes I have ever tasted, ‘Sungold’ is simply the best. Very sweet and slightly fruity, the small round golden orange fruits melt in your mouth like candy. The plant is extremely productive, very early for a cherry tomato (some catalogs suggest 57 days after transplanting, but in my garden, it’s closer to 65 days) and produces on and on, well into autumn when the weather permits. ‘Sungold’ is a strong-growing indeterminate tomato, filling my oversized tomato cages to the brim and beyond. You only need one plant per person if you’re just looking for fresh tomatoes: it’s that prolific. Of course, if you’re canning, freezing (my favorite method) or drying, you’ll want more. And it is very disease-resistant, growing full and green even as heirloom tomatoes collapse from fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, mosaic, nematodes, etc.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is not a commercial variety: the fruit tends to crack or split during transport, but for the home gardener, that’s not much of a problem: you’ll only be transporting it from the plant to the table. Besides, if a fruit splits when I harvest it, I simply figure it’s a sign from above that it was designed to go straight into my mouth. Pick one, eat one, pick three, eat another. Reminds me of berry picking when I was a kid!

And here’s a tip for home gardeners: if possible, let ‘Sungold’ ripen completely: it is when it is fully ripe, in fact almost overripe, that it tastes its juicy best.

I’m not the only ‘Sungold’ fan, either. Check the Internet: it has to one of the most highly praised tomatoes around, especially for its taste. During tomato tasting contests, ‘Sungold’ is almost always among the top 3 … when indeed it doesn’t grab the first prize. ‘Sungold’ has even earned one of the ultimate rewards in horticulture: the Royal Horticultural Society’s “Award of Garden Merit”.

The one true downside ‘Sungold’ is that is is an F1 hybrid and for that reason, will always be shunned by some organic gardeners (those who are more Catholic than the Pope, in my opinion) who only grow heirloom tomatoes (never hybrids). As if being a tomato hybridized more than 40 years (the definition of an heirloom tomato) is necessarily better than a tomato hybridized less than 20 years ago.

20150402AEven so, ‘Sungold’ seed costs no more than seed of heirloom tomatoes. The only difference is that it isn’t true to type. Therefore, when you have used up all your seed (a seed pack usually gives me enough ‘Sungold’ plants for 4 to 5 years), you have to purchase more rather than being able to harvest the seeds of your own to sow. WIth a pack of ‘Sungold’ seeds usually selling at less than $4 and the need to order more only coming up every 4 to 5 years, I figure I can afford that!

And before we go any further, the “non-hybrid versus F1 tomato” debate is in no way linked to GMOs (some gardeners confuse the two). Neither ‘Sungold’ nor any other tomato that you can find on the market is a GMO.

If you really can’t bear the idea of ??growing an F1 vegetable, it is interesting to note that there are many fixed varieties derived from ‘Sungold’, that is, varieties that do breed true. These are not exactly the same as ‘Sungold’, but very similar. This group includes ‘Sun Gold Select’, ‘Sun Gold Select II ‘, ‘ Wow’, ‘Sungella’, ‘Bright Sungold’, and ‘Big Sungold Select’.

If you can’t find ‘Sungold’ seed in your local garden center, you’ll find many seed companies offer it… and it’s not too late to order since, in many areas, it’s still time to sow tomato seeds for 2015. Later in the season, plants of ‘Sungold’ are commonly offered in the better garden centers (those that offer many varieties of tomatoes rather than only 3 or 4 varieties). They are commonly found in the public markets too. It’s not a hard variety to find.

Try it and see: ‘Sungold’ is a real winner!

‘Sungold’ is a Guinness World Record Holder

The largest tomato plant grown ever was a ‘Sungold’ which reached 65 ft (19.8 m) long cultivated by Nutriculture Ltd in Great Britain in 2000.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

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