Tomatoes are the most grown vegetable in the home garden, and with little wonder. Tomatoes produce a prodigious crop of vitamin-rich fruit, and can bear very quickly of over a long period. Mixing varieties produces a very long season of tomatoes. Last year, I had 14 plants that produced up to 45 pounds of tomatoes per day. A few plants go a long way!
Many people have tasted the inspired taste of heirloom tomatoes and are dying to get hold of some for them selves. Heirlooms are great, but there is a caveat – heirlooms are selected for their superb production qualities in the location where they were selected. Not that many have been developed through selective breeding in Camarillo…
I have had great luck with several varieties of heirlooms; refer to recommended vegetable varieties for my notes and Master Gardener recommendations. One that got rave reviews last year was the Black Krim, a large, dense fruit with good acid balance and a purple /black top that turns burgundy on the bottom. It bears heavily for a short period and produces good fruit through December or whenever the night time temps fall below 55 degrees.
Tomatoes are subject to numerous diseases. Growing them repeatedly in the same area allows soil-borne pests to develop over time, so you should ‘rotate’ the areas devoted to tomatoes.
When selecting tomato varieties, look for the letters ‘V’, ‘F’, ‘N’ and ‘T’. These letters denote resistance to Verticillium, Fusarium, Nematodes and Tobacco Mosaic virus. Verticillium and Fusarium are two serious diseases that can wipe out your whole crop.
If you buy plants from a big-box supplier PLEASE examine them plants for any sign of disease before bring it to the garden! Once introduced, they are hard to eliminate. A nation-wide grower wiped out the whole Northeast’s tomato crop last year by introducing blight from a single contaminated growing ground. The control you have over your own plants is another reason to start seeds for your heirloom tomatoes.
Tomatoes are classified as ‘determinate’ or ‘indeterminate’. Determinate varieties grow qnd produce their crop quickly, and the total number of fruit is determined by their genetics. The clusters of fruit seen in specialty vegetable aisle are most likely determinate in nature.
Indeterminate plants, on the other hand, produce fruit until fruit production stops with 55 degree nights or they are killed off by cold weather.
Tomatoes are one of very few plants that will tolerate having their stems buried, and seem to thrive from some extra stem/soil contact. Tomatoes need good support. One of the best studies I have found on tomato staking options is here on the UCCE ‘California Gardening’ website. I would like to see us try the recommended ‘Square Wooden Cage’ method they suggest. It looks like something we could mass produce quite easily.
A truly in-depth study of tomato culture is found in this University paper on growing tomatoes. In this paper, we are in climate zone ‘A’.