My Tomato Gala Winner


I grow a variety of tomatoes, and I’m always searching for the best of the best.

The Chelan-Douglas WSU Master Gardener Program also does this and celebrates at the end of the summer with its Annual Tomato Gala. I had the privilege of starring in this virtual event this year and thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie and information from fellow gardeners. It inspired me to have my end of season Tomato Gala review to discover my Tomato Gala winner.

How I Grow My Tomatoes

I grew all of my tomatoes in raised beds with a fresh four-inch layer of compost at the beginning of the season. All tomato plants need support as they grow to keep the fruit off of the ground. I chose a cage made of sturdy rebar, and as the plants grew, I tied the limbs to the cage to keep them upright. I used a special tie tape that is just for plants. Drip irrigation on a daily 30-minute timer with an additional mid-day 30 minutes when the temperature exceeded 80° throughout the season worked well. I added a layer of mulch immediately after planting to reduce weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

I will be discussing the growth habit of tomatoes as indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are vining plants that grow and produce tomatoes throughout the season until frost. Determinate tomatoes are bush-like with all the tomatoes ripening at once.

Judging Criteria

Join me in this review of my tomato season. Please help me decide which tomato should be the 2020 winner. In this review, I will consider each of the following attributes with a potential of two points each: appearance, production, flavor, firmness/slicing quality, filled with jelly-like mass for a total of 10 points.

Contestant #1 Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple
  • Variety Name: Cherokee Purple
  • Growth Habit: Indeterminate
  • Defined as: Heirloom beefsteak
  • Fruit Size: 10-12 oz
  • Fruit Color: Deep dusky purple-pink color
  • Days to Harvest: 75-80 days

History: Originated in Tennessee and said to have passed down from a Cherokee Indian sometime before the 1890’s.

My experience: Delicious on a BLT sandwich! My favorite for flavor. Slow Food USA describes the taste as sweet with a rich, almost smoky flavor. I agree! It was a very vigorous plant, and I tied it continuously to keep the tomatoes off of the ground. It produced medium-sized fruit. I liked the dark color of the flesh. The production was good. I will grow again next summer.

Rating: 9 (Cherokee Purple lost a point for its mediocre production)

Contestant #2 Early Girl

Early Girl
  • Variety Name: Early Girl
  • Growth Habit: Indeterminate
  • Defined as: Hybrid blemish-free & disease resistant
  • Fruit Size: 6-8 oz
  • Fruit Color: Red
  • Days to Harvest: 50 days, good for short-season areas or high elevations

History: Originally from a company in France as the result of cross-pollinating two different varieties to produce Early Girl. For reliable results with planting, a gardener needs to purchase new seeds each year. Monsanto currently owns the company.

My experience: Just like my other indeterminate tomatoes, Early Girl needs continuous tying to keep the fruit off of the ground. The production was fine, but now that I know Monsanto owns Early Girl seeds, I’ve lost all of my enthusiasum. No more Early Girl for me.

Rating: 0 (Early Girl lost all its points because it’s owned by Monsanto)

Contestant #3 Mortgage Lifter

Mortgage Lifter
  • Variety Name: Mortgage Lifter
  • Growth Habit: Indeterminate
  • Defined as: Heirloom beefsteak
  • Fruit Size: up to 4 lb.: average 2 1/2 lb.
  • Fruit Color: Red pink
  • Days to Harvest: 80 days

History: Developed in the 1930’s by a gardener who planted the four biggest varieties he knew and crosssed one with pollen from the other three. He did this for six seasons and created a variety that produced immense, tasty fruit. He sold the plants for $1 apiece and paid off his $6,000 morgage in 6 years.

My experience: Delicious in salsa and slices nicely for hamburgers. This tomato plant is a beast! I’m constantly tying the growing limbs and harvesting large beautiful tomatoes! The fruit is delicious and meaty. I will definitely grow again next year. If I needed to sell tomatoes to pay off my mortgage this is the cultivar I would choose!

Rating: 10 (Perfection in a tomato!)

Contestant #4 Roma

  • Variety Name: Roma
  • Growth Habit: Determinate
  • Defined as: Heirloom, Plum tomato
  • Fruit Size: 3 inches long
  • Fruit Color: Red pink
  • Days to Harvest: 73 – 80 days

History: The USDA developed the first Roma tomato in 1955, cultivar ‘Roma VF’. Roma today is a generic name for a pear-shaped tomato with thick walls used for canning and making tomato paste. The VF stands for the diseases verticillium and fusarium 1 that the plant is resistant to.

My experience: Even though Roma’s are determinate tomatoes, mine didn’t ripen at the same time this year. I harvested my first canner load on September 15, of ~22 lbs. There remain ~4 lbs that still need to ripen. I’ve had ~4-6 lbs off and on since the middle of summer. They’re not slicing tomatoes, so what can I do with those partial harvests? I only have two plants. After the feedback from the Master Gardener Tomato Gala this year, I plan to try Connie’s recommendation for the Blue Beech tomato next year.

Rating: 2 (Roma lost points for weak inconsistent production, weak flavor, no slicing quality, not much jelly in the lobes)

Contestant #5 Brandywine

  • Variety Name: Brandywine
  • Growth Habit: Indeterminate
  • Defined as: Heirloom, beefsteak tomato
  • Fruit Size: 9 – 16 oz
  • Fruit Color: Pink
  • Days to Harvest: 85 days

History: According to WSU, Brandywine is one of the best-known heirloom tomato varieties. According to Victory Seed Company, Ben Quisenberry, an Ohio gardener, submitted the Brandywine seeds to the Seed Saver Exchange in 1982. Dorris Sudduth gave Ben the seeds stating Brandywine had been in her family for over 80 years.

My experience: This is the only heirloom I had a problem with this season. As you see in the photo, my fruit had deep cracking and was a little misshapen. Most of the fruit went from green to red deflated bags on the vine quickly. The few fruits I harvested had excellent flavor and slicing qualities. Based on the information from Victory Seed Company, there are numerous inferior sub-strains on the market now, so perhaps the plant I purchased this spring was an inferior sub-strain? I will try Brandywine again next year, but I’ll get my plants from the Chelan County Master Gardeners’ plant sale early in the spring.

Rating: 7 (Brandywine lost points for the cracking, and really low production)

Contestant #6 Red Beefsteak

Red Beefsteak
  • Variety Name: Red Beefsteak
  • Growth Habit: Indeterminate
  • Defined as: Heirloom, beefsteak tomato
  • Fruit Size: up to 4 lbs
  • Fruit Color: Deep scarlet
  • Days to Harvest: 90 days

History: This tomato is confusing because it’s both a name and a tomato type. I bought this Bonnie Plant transplant at a box store. I can’t find any history on the Red Beefsteak. The label claims it’s an heirloom.

My Experience: This plant didn’t yield a lot or have a lot of flavor. I won’t plant this again next year.

Rating: 6 (Red Beefsteak lost points for production, flavor, and slicing quality because of its smaller size)

Contestant #7 Sungold

  • Variety Name: Sungold
  • Growth Habit: Indeterminate
  • Defined as: Cherry tomato, hybrid with disease resistance: F (fusarium wilt), TMV (tobacco mosaic virus)
  • Fruit Size: 1 1/2 inches across on grape-like trusses of 10-15 fruit
  • Fruit Color: Apricot – orange
  • Days to Harvest: 65 days

History: Sungold cherry tomato tied as the all-around winner in the Chelan-Douglas Master Gardener 2019 Tomato Gala. In the nine Tomato Galas prior, Sungold was right up there in the top tier every year.

My Experience: I have grown them three years in a row. They make a delicious snack picked off the plant and placed directly in the mouth, and they add a burst of flavor to salads. Harvesting them is tricky because they easily fall off of the truss when ripe.

Rating: 9 (Sungold lost a point because the ripe fruits fall off the plant so easily)

Contestant #8 Super Sweet 100

Super Sweet 100
  • Variety Name: Super Sweet 100
  • Growth Habit: Indeterminate
  • Defined as: Cherry tomato, hybrid
  • Fruit Size: 1 1/2 inches across on some grape-like trusses of 100 fruit
  • Fruit Color: Deep scarlet
  • Days to Harvest: 65 days

History: The 1982 improved hybrid version of ‘Sweet 100’ with added disease resistance: V (verticillium), F (fusarium 1), N (nematodes)

My experience: If I compare Super Sweet 100 to Sungold, the flavor was as good and it had the advantage that the ripe cherries didn’t fall off as easily. Sungold might have a better yield. I will grow another year to extend my testing. I enjoyed them every time I went to the garden. Those delicious red globes kept me sustained throughout my hours of garden toil. Before we have a frost I want to try roasting them with a little olive oil and sea salt then freeze them for soups and sauces.

Rating: 9 (Super Sweet 100 lost a point for production or I’m just a pig and ate them all and forgot)

Are you ready for it? My 2020 Tomato Gala winner is …..


The Mortgage Lifter!!!

Ripening Mortgage Lifters

I’m still picking these tomatoes every day, and it’s September 18th. It will be these plants with the most tomatoes that I’ll harvest before the first frost. I don’t want it to end!

Be sure to check in this time next year to find out what tomato makes my Tomato Gala winner!