Homegrown Tomatoes: You Do The Picking

Your county Extension agent is always a good place to get information on recommended vegetable varieties for your area. Extension publication, ANR-63, "Planting Guide for Gardening in Alabama," has an entire list of favorite home vegetable varieties from A to Z. When it comes to selecting the best tomato varieties, every gardener has his or her favorites – just ask them! Some folks will plant Early Girl, just to make sure they have a vine ripened tomato before their neighbor (never mind the flavor!). Other gardeners wouldn’t miss a season without growing Better Boy, Atkinson or other longtime favorites.

When choosing which tomatoes you will grow, consider these questions. Do I want an early, mid, or late-season variety? The number of days to maturity is usually listed beside the tomato variety name in catalogs and on plant labels. This refers to the approximate number of days from the time of transplanting, not the time seeds are planted. Tomato transplants should be grown from seed before being set into the garden. It's a good idea to become familiar with the growth habit of varieties in determining when to harvest tomatoes. Determinate tomato varieties produce shorter branches ending in flower clusters. They generally produce a shorter harvest period -- about 4 to 6 weeks -- and can be an early, mid, or late-season producer. Indeterminate varieties, such as Better Boy, Big Beef and many others are often preferred by home gardeners, because they grow and produce fruit all season long. However, the indeterminates do require more caging or trellising.

Another question you may ask is, what kind of resistance does a variety have against diseases in the home garden? You also will find this information in seed catalogs and on plant labels. Several letters (for example VFN) that indicate a variety is resistant to certain diseases usually follow variety names. The letter V indicates resistance to Verticillium wilt, F for Fusarium wilt (two common fungus diseases in the soil) and N for nematode resistance. These are naturally occurring disease problems in home gardens that can become bothersome when the same plants (and closely related relatives) are grown in the same soil year after year. It's a good idea to rotate where you plant tomatoes and all crops. If you can’t change the area of your garden plot, move a crop to another area of the garden each year.

In addition to disease resistance and days to maturity, select varieties on the basis of fruit size or intended use. Big Beef is a recent slicer variety on the market and has excellent disease resistance. Roma and Viva Italia are pear-shaped and among favorite Italian paste varieties. Tomatoes that grow well in containers include Better Bush, Husky Golds. Cherry varieties are good for hanging baskets.

Tomato seeds should be started 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting. Use a sterile growing medium, ensure adequate light and humidity, and keep temperatures at about 70 degrees F during the day and 65 degrees F at night.

For a list of the most popular homegrown tomato varieties, listing days to maturity, growth habit, disease resistance and other information, contact your county Extension office and ask for "Horticulture Timely Information Sheet – Tomato Varieties for the Home Garden."

SOURCE: Mary Beth Musgrove, Extension Associate-Horticulture, Alabama Cooperative Extension System (334) 855-5481