Everglades Tomatoes

Tiny Everglades tomatoes after a gentle rain. / Photos by Nicole Coudal

I grew up in New England, where it was easy to find tasty tomatoes during summer. Just about everyone had a garden, and when August rolled around, those sun-ripened beauties were at their peak.

As a kid, in my own garden, I hungrily consumed them from the vine! They were packed with flavor, and I didn’t even care that the seeds and juice dripped all over my shirt.

Needless to say, I’m picky when it comes to tomatoes. And let’s be honest: While Florida offers many natural wonders, its sandy soil and high temperatures present challenges when it comes to growing tomatoes whose quality can rival that of those Northern beauties.

Enter Everglades tomatoes! Never heard of them? Well, this is your lucky day.

Small tomato, long name

Their full name is “Wild Florida Everglades Tomatoes,” and they’re in the “Currant” tomato family. They’re an heirloom variety which has been naturalized to Florida (possibly originating in Ecuador or Peru), with several unconfirmed stories about how they got here.

They can pretty much be grown throughout the state, with southern regions boasting the ability to produce fruit year-round. Plants can be started from seeds (there are many online sources), from fallen fruit or from cuttings; and all are able to grow easily in non-rich soil.

They do well when planted directly in the ground or in raised beds, or supported in structures. As for taste, although they’re certainly tiny (marble-size, actually), they’re intensely sweet, juicy and low in acidity, with true tomato flavor. They’re absolutely delicious!

Robert Kluson, Ph.D., is an agricultural and natural-resources extension agent with the University of Florida’s Sarasota County office. He’s been growing Everglades tomatoes in Sarasota for several years and has been impressed with their durability.

An Everglades tomato is a hardy tomato 

Kluson notes that the plants have “incredibly viable shoots and can produce fruit, problem-free, even during the summer months.” He also notes that the plants are “highly resistant to pests, unlike many other tomato varieties.”

Peter Burkard, a Manatee County-based grower and author of The Real Dirt: An Organic Grower’s Journey and the Values That Inspired It, has had a similar experience.

Nicole Coudal - Everglades tomato / Nicole Coudal

Just-picked Everglades tomatoes.

He says “The so-called Everglades tomato is the best way to have any kind of summer tomato production here. The small fruits are tasty little gems that are noticeably sweet and plentiful.  We are quite limited in what veggies can be grown here in the summer, but add this to your list of the commonly mentioned okra, eggplant, sweet potatoes, tropical greens, yard-long beans and Southern peas.”

Two minor flaws

Tasty tomatoes that grow easily and produce delicious fruit, even in high temperatures? Sound too good to be true? Well, there are two things that make them slightly imperfect.

First, unlike mass-produced or hybrid varieties, the skins on the Everglades tomato are very tender, making them not viable for commercial production. So you won’t find them in your supermarket or farmers market.

Second, if you grow them yourself – depending on how many plants you have – you might experience a smaller yield at times. But even if you’re not able to make a caprese salad every day, you’ll still be able to enjoy these tiny gems regularly from your garden.

Sometimes, great things really do come in small packages.