Its not been a great year for outdoor tomatoes. In June we had record breaking rain and many varieties shivered or just gave up. Orange banana however which originates from Russia and dates back to the 1930’s has thrived, as have Dancing with Smurfs and Green Zebra.
Surprisingly because of its hardiness but perhaps because of its bright orange colour, Orange banana is a rarity in the UK but you can find it if you hunt around.
Taste wise it has a good sweet flavour. Some people say you can eat it straight from the vine but I found it a bit floury for that. I have also heard of people drying it for sundries tomatoes so watch this space. It has quite a few seeds for a cooking tomato but it’s unusual colour detracts from any grumbles you might have about that.
Sow tomato seeds from January (for greenhouse/conservatory tomatoes) to April (outdoor tomatoes) and keep at a temperature of 18 a 20 degrees c. Germination should take 7 to 14 days.
I sow 6 seeds in a small seed tray, making sure there is at least an inch between seeds. I then cover with half a centimetre of vermiculite, water and place in a heated propagator in a location that receives plenty of light.
Once your tomatoes sprout the challenge is to give them sufficient light to stop them getting leggy. A sunny window ledge in a cool room, a heated conservatory or greenhouse kept above 12 degrees c are ideal. You will need to turn tomatoes grown on a window ledge often as they will grow towards the light. You can also use LED grow lights to supplement the light they get. Gently blowing the leaves daily may also encourage them to be more stocky.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle (2-4 leaves), transplant into individual 3 inch pots. Pot on as required. Plant out, 2-3 ft apart after all risk of frost has passed.
Cordon tomato plants require support from about 4 inches. They will then need further tying in as the plant grows. Pinch out the side shoots that grow between the stem and the leaves before they reach 2cm long. Take the tops off outdoor tomatoes after two trusses have set fruit. In unheated greenhouses after 4 trusses and in heated green houses, stop in September to allow remaining fruit to ripen.
When tomatoes are young keep the soil moist but not damp. Water from the base to reduce humid you around the leaves which encourages blight. As they start to fruit you will need to keep them consistently watered, daily if necessary to prevent fruit putting sudden spurts of growth on and splitting. Remove the lower foliage as it yellows. This encourages air flow around the plant and allows more light to get to the fruit for ripening. The more light the sweeter the tomato.
In the kitchen
Orange banana is a paste tomato that you would use for sauces, soups, purée, ketchup or anywhere that you would use cooked tomatoes. I have heard of it being used as a sun dried tomato.
Once you get over the slightly strange idea of having an orange tomato sauce it’s actually a very good tomato and a great way to entertain friends because it’s so unusual.
Yield and plant health
Orange banana is a cordon variety or tomato so needs support and pinching out of side shoots.
I have found that the fruit is prone to splitting, which seams to be common in orange varieties. I have not had any sign of blossom end rot although it has not been sufficiently hot and dry for that to be a problem.
It’s survived outside in particularly bad weather where both my San Marzano and Armish Paste did not (I took a punt on them as they are really greenhouse varieties).
It is not blight resistant.
Nicky’s Nursery (Uk)