Fun With Garden Tomatoes – Lots of Choices

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Tomatoes are the most commonly planted vegetable in the home garden. While a lot of folks go back to their old standard favorite variety each year, there are actually hundreds of choices out there. From size, color, flavor, use, there are options for everyone. There’s also a couple of other choices to consider – hybrid vs open-pollinated (often called heirloom), and disease resistance.

While tomatoes are most popular in the garden, they can be a challenge to grow, particularly in the south where the weather can be hot and humid. This is the perfect environment for diseases. Too often, people start out with great looking plants, only to see them melt away as some disease attacks.

There are numerous seed companies that sell a wide selection of tomato varieties. You’ll also find a lot of choices at your nearby garden center. So, how does one choose from all of these possibilities?

Consider first, how you intend to use the fruit you harvest. If you just want a nice tomato sandwich, you’ll probably want a beefsteak type. For salads, grape, cherry or plum tomatoes may be the choice. For preserving, some folks like roma types because they are more meaty but you’ll at least probably want a medium- to large-sized fruit.

What about heirlooms? Yes, they can be quite tasty. Favorites like Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, German Johnson, Mortgage LIfter and Mr. Stripey are just a few of the many available. However, there are two things to keep in mind. Most of these varieties are indeterminate, and most have little disease resistance.

Determinate vs Indeterminate? This is a function of height. Determinate tomatoes reach a certain height, say about 50 inches tall, and then stop growing. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow and require much more extensive staking which can be labor intensive.

Disease resistance? Well, the more the better. While there are numerous diseases that tomatoes may acquire, most of them only have resistance to a certain few in any one variety. Pretty much all of these are hybrids. Some of the resistances to look for include resistance to Fusarium wilt (races 1-3) and Verticillium Wilt.

Blights are a really difficult problem. However, there is limited resistance even in hybrid tomatoes. However, resistance to Late Blight and Early Blight are, if you can find it, is a big asset. Resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus can be important in some areas as well.

Tomatoes may have resistance to other diseases/conditions such as Alternaria, Septoria and Nematodes. However, there’s no such thing as a bullet-proof variety. You don’t have to choose between good flavor and good disease tolerance anymore. Many of these hybrids with good resistance are very flavorful.

Know what you’re getting before you buy it whether seeds or plants. Look at the information available about the tomato to see what the growth habit is and what disease resistance it has at the very least.

Tomatoes can be a lot of fun. They can also frustrate the horns off a billy goat. Growing organically in the southeast is not impossible but challenging. However, tomatoes is something that anyone can grow whether you live on a ranch, in the burbs, in town or in an apartment. All you need is a big enough pot and a good sunny place and you can have a tomato plant. Enjoy growing yours!!