Sunday, 14 June 2015

Micro Tom tomatoes

I wrote an earlier post on my experience with some old Micro Tom tomato seeds and growing them out for the first time.  Then I forgot to publish that post...oops.

As it turns out I got some very old seeds to germinate, grow, flower, set fruit and then saved all of its seeds.  I have since posted some of those seeds to other seed savers in the hope that this variety never goes extinct in Australia.  I thought I would write about just how close Micro Tom came to disaster.
Micro Tom starting to die, the stick is 5cm tall
Micro Tom faced a lot of danger

First the seeds were very old and I was not sure that they would germinate.  I planted three seeds and one germinated and grew for me.  That was great, but I need more experience growing old seeds.  I now have some 20 year old and 25 year old tomato seeds (that are not rare varieties) that I am now planning on experimenting with to find ways to increase germination rates in extremely old seeds.  If you have any older tomato seeds that you do not want I would love you to send them to me so that I can experiment some more.

Secondly I did not have many of these old seeds (only 9) so could not play around too much with them.  To this end I planted three seeds and saved the other six for Spring.  I think this was a wise choice as it gave me the best of both worlds.  In Spring I plan on planting the remaining old seeds and see if I can get any of them to grow.  Having such a low number of old seeds and so little experience germinating them could easily have ended this experiment right there.

Once one germinated and started to grow, the weather cooled down and early frosts were a danger as were low daytime temperatures which could prevent fruit set or ripening.  I grew the plants in the laundry over night to help combat this but did not have high hopes that the micro tomatoes would work at this time of year.

Then the Micro Tom plant got a disease, it looked like late blight, you can see it in the picture above.  This disease caused leaf, flower and fruit drop and eventually killed my precious little plant.  Luckily the tiny plant ripened a few fruits before this happened so it only ended up causing me to save less seeds rather than be a total disaster.

I decided to let the fruit hang on the plant for a long time to ensure the seeds and the best chance of being ripe and viable.  Being outside at this time of year is asking for trouble as birds would steal the late fruit so I kept the plant in the laundry which protected it from birds, but this actually caused the next problem.

Our baby almost ate the Micro Tom tomatoes!!!  One day Tracey was doing laundry, she walked out of the laundry and when she returned the baby had stolen all the tomatoes off the tiny plant.  She had one tomato in her hand and a funny grin on her face.  Tracey rescued the tomato from the baby's hand, then she noticed the odd grin.  Apparently the baby had put tomatoes in her mouth but as yet had not bitten down on them.  Luckily Tracey also saved those tomatoes.  In the end the baby did not end up eating any Micro Tom tomatoes and we were able to save them all for seed.

I was also growing another variety of micro tomato from some equally old seeds in a pot next to Micro Tom.  Luckily the baby only picked tomatoes from one plant and not the other, she did not eat them, and she did not mix up fruit from both plants.  Had the tomatoes been mixed up it would not be worth saving seeds from them as I would not have known which variety they were.  If that happened I would only have saved seed to use for breeding as I would not know which variety of micro tomato it was.
Micro Tom tomatoes
What does Micro Tom taste like

Micro Tom is a cherry tomato, they taste ok as far as cherry tomatoes go.  Nothing particularly special unfortunately.  They are better than any cherry tomatoes that I can buy at this time of year, which is a bonus.  They tasted better than the other micro tomato that I grew at the same time, which is another bonus.  They also taste a lot better than an unnamed cherry tomato that I grew in the vegetable garden this year too so overall I can't complain about the taste.  They were not terribly sweet and did not have any great depth of taste, but they were not at all bad.

Perhaps they would be sweeter if grown with proper conditions rather than in the beginning of Winter and more sunlight (and more leaves, the poor little plant was defoliated by disease) should equate to higher fruit sugar levels.  I plan to grow some in Spring and see if they taste better.

I also saved every seed and only ate the flesh of the tomatoes, perhaps eating the seeds in the tomato would have made it nicer.  It is difficult to say for sure, in Spring I will grow more plants and taste them properly now that fresh seeds have been saved.
Micro Tom tomatoes
How does Micro Tom grow

I have only grown the one little plant, I hope to grow a lot more of them to get a better idea of how they perform.  The tiny plant grew less than 7cm tall before it died.  It was difficult to measure its height exactly, probably 5cm to 6cm, and it was cute as a button.  It ended up producing about half a dozen ripe tomatoes but would have produced 20 to30 had it not been killed by disease.

This tiny plant grew in a small pot of soil that was barely 7cm across.  I had planned on growing it in a 10cm pot but could not find one until after it was planted and did not want to mess around repotting it.

I think that Micro Tom could be grown in a plastic cup of soil that has a drainage hole.  I plan to grow some like that and see how it goes, I think the outcome will be positive.  I also have sowed some seeds to see if I can grow them over Winter on the kitchen window and with successive planting provide some tomatoes year round.  So far it looks like Micro Tom will do this quite well.
Micro Tom flowering nicely
What is the point of Micro Tom

Clearly Micro Tom would not be used to feed your entire family, other varieties are better suited for that task.  It is not really suitable to grow outside on acreage, again there are far more suitable tomato varieties for this task as a micro tomato would easily be over run by taller weeds.  While it tastes ok, it is far from the best tasting cherry tomato that I grew this year.  Somehow, even with all of that, Micro Tom will be grown by me for years to come.

Micro Tom is very well suited to growing where space is limited, it is ideal for balconies and window farming.  If it can be grown successfully over winter on the window it can be used to provide a small number of home grown tomatoes all year.

Micro Tom is perfect for children, lets face it they can grow it in a cup of soil and carry it around and pretend it is a little pet.  You can't do that with a 6 foot tall Giant Siberian Pink tomato plant that produces massive 20cm fruit!

Apparently Micro Tom is used overseas by research facilities in understanding genetics, due to its short life cycle and undemanding habits it is considered the mouse of the plant world.

As far as I am concerned Micro Tom is good, but its true potential is using it as breeding stock to create improved micro tomatoes that taste better, return larger crops, and perhaps even a few different colours.  I have great plans of using Micro Tom as one parent to breed superior micro tomatoes, to be honest I can see this being a fun and interesting breeding project and due to Micro Tom's short life cycle I should be able to achieve results relatively quickly. 
Micro Tom fruiting well


  1. I've a soft spot for Micro Tom, not the tastiest, but so cute and great for windowsill gardening. Glad you found seeds and were able to save and share seeds with others :)

    1. Hi Jayb,

      I also have a soft spot for Micro Tom, I like how tiny the plants are. They don't taste bad, but they are certainly nothing fantastic.

      I was very lucky to get the original seeds, it was very generous of the person who gave them to me.