By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
Have you ever perused a seed catalog looking for the perfect tomato and been a little confused by the size descriptions? I have. And as someone who recently has had to learn a whole lot about writing short variety descriptions, I appreciate what information I do get from seed packets and catalogs. But I also don’t have time to sift through all the varied ways that tomatoes are described in terms of size. What I needed a way to compare tomato sizes at a glance: Is tomato A bigger or smaller than tomato B? So, I set out to make some sense of all the numbers, weights, measurements and obscure descriptives for comparing various sizes of tomatoes.
Now, don’t get me wrong; It’s not that I can’t figure out that a 3 oz. tomato is smaller that a 5 oz. tomato or that a 1 lb. tomato is really big. But how does a 3 oz. tomato compare in size with a tomato that’s 4” in diameter? And, honestly, how big is a 3 oz. tomato anyway? I don’t make it a habit to weigh each variety of tomato that I grow – in fact, I don’t even own a food scale (and who really does that, anyway?). Ditto for measuring the diameter of the tomatoes that I grow – that’s just weird. And what about generic phrases like “Nice slicing tomato.” or “Great canner!” for trying to determine the actual size of a fruit? I guess they work to some degree, but they hardly give me anything tangible to compare to. After all, I’m pretty sure that I could (and probably have) slice, can, dry, sauce, stew, et al, virtually any tomato.
Now, I don’t blame the seed catalogs or their writers for this shortcoming. As I mentioned, I recently had to come up with extremely short variety descriptions (and planting instructions!) for around 50 herbs and vegetables for seed packets that my project, Share the Seed, uses to distribute free seed to those in need. I’ve done it and so I know how hard it really is – even for a writer. I had to make the descriptions and all the other pertinent factoids needed to grow them fit in the space allotted on one-half of a business card and still be readable with the naked eye.
That’s a tight fit.
So, in order to include as many descriptions as possible on seed packets and catalogs, producers and sellers must sum up the qualities of any given variety in a very limited space using as few words as possible. The main goal of the writer is to pique your interest and sell seed. In the case of tomatoes, the size of the fruit in question is less of a priority than its color and flavor. So unless it’s a real whopper of a tomato, fruit size descriptions are often limited to ounces and pounds or inches in diameter or alluded to by simply referring to the tomato’s type such as cherry, beefsteak, or slicing. These types of depictions work well on paper, but when it comes to real life, comparisons like these just don’t fill the bill.
I thought for sure that someone, somewhere would have done this for me already. So, I searched the internet. After several attempts and many broad search terms, all I came up with were various “fruit classifications”. Virtually all of them intended for commercial grading, sorting, and packaging purposes – not for the home gardener. These classifications were much less descriptive and more exact in terms of weight and diameter, in both metric and standard. Yet, as exacting as they were, they didn’t give me the comparisons that I longed for. For that, I would spend hours pouring through seed catalogs comparing descriptions and sorting them into groups based on type, average diameter and weight and a little artistic creation. The result was this handy chart for readily and easily demystifying tomato sizes.
I hope this helps make your future tomato shopping just a bit more enjoyable!
© 2015 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid GMO’s by saving seeds! This excellent resource for beginning and hobby seed savers takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving your own seed in plain English.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.
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