The grape tomato! This delectable beauty has taken grocery stores by storm, and all but dethroned the cherry tomato. But, what has made it so popular? It wasn’t always the jewel of the veggie tray.
In fact, in the 1600s, tomatoes were thought to be lethal. The upper class would cut into these juicy joys and sometimes convulse and die. Later, it was discovered that their pewter plates were to blame. The high acidity of the tomatoes caused the lead in the pewter to leach into the royals’ food — causing death by lead poisoning.
But, there’s no need to fear tomatoes now. The truth is, the tomato is so popular nowadays, there are tons of varieties to choose from. Which brings us to a crowd favorite: the grape tomato. Where did it come from and how does one grow a grape tomato?
In the late 1990s, Taiwanese-based Known-You Seed company worked some crossbreeding magic to develop the first successful grape tomato class: Santa F1.
In 1996, Andrew Chu, a vegetable grower in Wimauma, FL, heard about the new class of tomatoes from a Taiwanese friend and decided to give the crop a go. When his little harvest was ready, Chu shipped them to distributors along the East Coast. And Chu’s grape tomatoes became stars. With a higher sugar concentration than cherry tomatoes, and less effort to eat than a beefsteak tomato, these grape goodies flew off the shelves.
This was, unfortunately, bad news for the cherry tomato. It couldn’t compete with the grape tomato’s sweetness and longer shelf life. The grape tomato also had a thicker skin, making it easier to ship, and it often arrived less damaged than the cherry tomato. There were even more differences between the grape tomato and cherry tomato that made it a favorite among consumers.
Word travels fast among tomato farmers, and commercial growers moved quickly to track down the supplier of the grape tomato seeds. From there came a clash of the titans as farmers scrambled to get their hands on the sweet Santa breed. You can read all about the grape tomato war in this fantastic Washington Post article Attack of the Grape Tomatoes.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
So, grape tomatoes are popular, but are they good for you? Yes! You can check out the full USDA FoodData chart on the nutrition facts. There are only five calories in one grape tomato. For a one cup serving, which is about six grape tomatoes, there is a total of 30 calories.
They are also a good source of fiber. One cup will give you about 16% of your daily fiber, which can help regulate your blood sugar.
They are also a good source of vitamin A and C. Vitamin A is important for your vision, growth, and immune system. Vitamin C is crucial for your body’s ability to heal and helps keep your immune system in tip-top shape.
Grape tomatoes are also very high in lycopene, which provide a host of heart health benefits, sun protection, and more. Some studies have even extrapolated that lycopene might help reduce some forms of cancer.
How to Grow Grape Tomatoes
Considering the health benefits and popularity, it makes sense to add grape tomatoes to your garden this year. But, if it’s your first time growing these, the task might seem a little daunting. But don’t worry, as far as garden stock go, these little guys are very forgiving.
|Full sun (six hours or more)
|Moderate. Your tomato plants will need about 2” of water per week. Plan on doing a good watering every two to three days.
|Like all plants, grape tomato plants like rich, fertile soil. In particular, make sure the soil has a pH of 5.8-6.8 and that the dirt has good drainage.
|Yes, this is one of the easier varieties of tomatoes to grow.
Start Growing Indoors
The most successful approach for your grape tomatoes is to start them eight to 10 weeks indoors before you plan to transplant them into your garden. Tomatoes like it hot, so be sure to look up the last spring frost date predicted for your area, and count back eight to 10 weeks from then.
There have been many seed varieties since the old Santa F1 days in 1996. You can check out the whole grape tomato seed catalog here to weigh which seed is best for pest resistance and other types of physiological disorders.
Once you have chosen your seeds, start them in small containers with rich, fertilized soil and good drainage. Your plants only need 2″ of water a week, but if you are starting from seed, it is good to water them daily for those first three days. Also, make sure they are in a spot where they are getting lots of sunlight — at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
Transplanting Your Grape Tomatoes
When it’s time to plant your grape tomatoes in your outdoor garden, make sure the holes are 24″ apart from each other with rows being about 30″ apart. Water your plants well again and consider a liquid fertilizer to help the transition go smoothly.
Although not necessary, staking or caging your tomato plants will also be beneficial. Caging supports your plants and keeps the growing tomatoes off the ground. There are many caging and staking techniques for your grape tomatoes that you can peruse.
Harvesting Your Grape Tomatoes
You can expect the fruits of your labor two to three months after planting. Grape tomatoes ripen a lot faster than their bigger cousins, such as the beefsteaks or romas.
They will start off green and slowly warm into a red color. When the entire shape is almost entirely red, wiggle the tomato a little bit. When it is ripe, the grape tomato’s grip on the vine will be loose, and you’ll be able to easily pluck it off.
Also, the shoulder of the tomato (the soft rounded area at the top that borders the stem) should be slightly green for you to benefit from the full flavor.
Grape tomato plants, like most tomato plants, are very prolific. So, you’ll be enjoying these sweet little delights most of the summer. You may have a hard time keeping up with all the harvesting!
Depending on your area, there may be many enemies you’ll have to fend off from your grape tomato plants. Here are some of the common ones.
Aphids: These pests can settle on your plants in large numbers. Some tell-tale signs are leaf curling, yellowing and discoloration, and sticky leaves.
If you are looking to avoid pesticides, the Almanac recommends a solution of water and a few drops of dish soap sprayed on your tomato plant leaves every three days for two weeks to control aphids.
Flea beetles: These beetles love to munch on grape tomato leaves, and you can tell by all the small holes that will dot your leaves. Gardening stores carry common pesticides that can deal with flea beetles. The University of Minnesota Extension has a list of common ingredients that are effective and how to apply them.
Tomato hornworms: As you can tell by their name, these caterpillars’ favorite plant is the tomato plant. They enjoy both the leaves and fruit, causing peppered holes and damage all over. The only real way to manage these caterpillars is to physically pluck them off.
If tomatoes had a hierarchy, grape tomatoes would be near the top. They make an excellent choice for your garden. And as you learn more about grape tomatoes, you can see why they benefit your body and why they are so popular in the produce department. You will not regret growing them in your garden this year.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/angelsimon
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- University of Minnesota Extension, Available here: https://extension.umn.edu/vegetables/growing-tomatoes#choosing-tomato-varieties%2C-types-and-growth-habit-173311
- NC State Extension, Available here: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/solanum-lycopersicum/
- Washington Post, Available here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/food/2001/09/12/attack-of-the-grape-tomatoes/f568663b-148f-4625-8342-6f9ba930b753/
- Food Data Central, Available here: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/321360/nutrients