Choosing Tomato Varieties
If you are like me, you wait all year for fresh tomatoes from your garden. Therefore, it is important to know how to select the best varieties for your growing conditions and purposes. Over the years, I have experimented with a number of different varieties. I have found that I prefer heirlooms over hybrids. This year I have planted 15 different heirloom tomatoes.
Heirlooms, Hybrids, and GMOs
First, let’s explore the difference between heirlooms and hybrids. Heirlooms are plants that have been passed down from generation to generation and are open pollinated. Some believe that to be a true heirloom the plant need to date back to a minimum of 1945 while others believe they need to be at least 100 years old. A seed from an heirloom will produce a plant almost identical to the parent or true to type. They come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes. I, like many, swear by heirlooms when it comes to flavor.
Hybrids are a cross between to genetically different varieties. These crosses are created in hopes of producing plant varieties that have the best features or both parents. For example, some tomatoes have been crossed to obtain a higher level of disease resistance. Unlike heirlooms, plants produced from their seed are likely to be different from the parent plant. However, they do tend to produce a more consistent product and higher yield.
Sometimes people confuse hybrids with GMOs (Genetically Modified Plants). These are not the same. GMO’s are plants whose DNA has been genetically altered. GMOs have been the topic of a great deal of debate. People question their impact on health and the environment. I will sort through this topic in a later post. For our purpose, just know that they are different than heirlooms and hybrids.
Indeterminate v. Determinate Tomatoes
Another major factor to consider when choosing tomato varieties is whether they are determinate or indeterminate. As the name implies, the height of determinate tomatoes is pre-determined. Determinate tomatoes will get to a certain height and stop. They tend to have a more bushy structure. They produce a higher yield in a shorter window. This can be great when you want to have a lot of tomatoes all at once for canning or freezing. You can choose different varieties to extend the season.
On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes have no set height. They will continue to grow throughout the season. Their final height will be determined by things such as cold weather and disease. These varieties require more attention. If left to themselves they will sprawl across the garden. Offering proper support and pruning is recommended. Their growth habits make them better suited to medium and large gardens.
When choosing tomato varieties it is also important to think about your climate. In cool climates, short to mid-season tomatoes are good bets. These tomatoes set in cooler temps and mature quickly. Some varieties such as the Siberia Tomato mature in as little as 50 days.
Although tomatoes thrive in warm temperatures, it can get so hot that they will stop producing fruit. Therefore, if you live in a hot climate you will want to select varieties that are more tolerant of the heat. It is also best to stick with small to medium sized tomatoes that ripen sooner. Arkansas Traveler and Yellow Pear,are just a couple of suggested tomatoes that do well in hotter areas. Also, provide your tomatoes with some shade, mulch, and plenty of water.
Tomatoes are susceptible to a number of different diseases that can be caused by viruses, fungi, and bacteria. They can spread via soil, air, water, and the use of contaminated tools. However, there are some things you can do to lessen your chance of losing your crop to one of these.
- Rotate crops Ideally, tomatoes (or other nightshade plants such as peppers, eggplants, and potatoes) should not be planted in the same location more than once every three years.
- Amend soil Add extra nutrients to your soil to promote the health of your plants.
- Consistent Watering Avoid overwatering and under watering your tomatoes. Also, avoid watering in a manner that splatters soil on your plants.
- Proper Circulation Avoid crowding your plants. It prevents leaves from drying and leaves them vulnerable to developing disease.
- Disease Detection Check your plants regularly for signs of disease and treat quickly.
- Variety Selection Some tomato varieties have been bred for specific disease resistance. You can check with your local nursery or extension office to see if there are particular diseases that are known to be a problem in your area.
When a tomato variety has been tested and confirmed to be resistant to a certain type of disease it is assigned a code. Below are some of the common diseases that impact tomatoes.
V = Verticillium Wilt, F = Fusarium Wilt,
N = Nematodes, T = Tobacco Mosaic Virus,
A = Alternaria, St = Gray Leaf Spot
Below is the link to a great resource to help identify tomatoes with resistance to certain diseases. It also includes seed sources for each variety.
When choosing your tomato varieties is also important to consider how you will use your tomatoes. I typically aim to have a few types that are greater slicing and a few that can and freeze well. If you plan to make paste, there are varieties such as Amish Paste that have smaller seed cavities and more meat. Cherry and grape tomatoes are great for shish kabobs or just popping in your mouth as your gardening.
Some of the varieties I have selected for the garden this year include:
- Brandywine-large red fruits with potato like leaves
- Green Zebra- chartreuse color with lime green stripes
- Arkansas Traveler-Medium sized pink-red colored tomatoes with better resistance to heat, cracking, and disease
- German Pink-potato leafed plant bears 1-2 lb almost seedless fruits, extremely versatile-can, freeze, eat fresh
- Black Krim-Red purple fruit, sweet in taste, very juicy
- Purple Cherokee-Dusky purple pink color sweet large sized fruits
- Black Cherry-reddish purple in color with a rich complex flavor offering large yields
- Paul Robeson- Dark dusky color, sweet with a slight tanginess, high production, 3-4 inch fruits
- Pink Oxheart-Oval pointed fruits pinkish red in color, great for slicing
I will update this post with pictures of my harvest later this summer. I am quite excited to see how they perform. Most of my heirloom seeds are purchased from Baker Creek at: http://rareseeds.com
If you are looking for a great way to use your tomatoes, here is one of my favorites:
I hope this is helpful as you go about choosing your tomato varieties. There are so many options that it can sometimes be a little overwhelming.
Photo via Visualhunt.com