Selecting Tomatoes

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The daffodils are in full bloom, and my peas, carrots and lettuce are planted. Now it is time to start thinking about the rest of the vegetable garden and my favorite crops, like tomatoes. When I think about my tomatoes, the biggest thing I need to consider is what my family will eat. The next considerations are: what do I want to experiment with, and do I have room?

With tomatoes, it is important to know what type you want and how you are going to use it. This is because tomatoes take a lot of space, and there are other plants that need to be in the garden too. I have a good size vegetable garden, so I can easily grow 10 different types of tomato plants. When you start looking at varieties, look at the descriptions and the uses. Is it a salad tomato, a sandwich tomato, or is it for canning and making sauces? These are critical decisions because they determine what type of tomatoes you are going to purchase as seed or seedling plants.

When growing tomatoes, also pay attention to whether the plants are determinate or indeterminate. Indeterminate tomatoes, or vining tomatoes, continue to grow until the first hard frost. Depending on the variety, they can grow from 4 feet to over 10 feet tall. This type continues to produce flowers and fruits throughout the growing season. The plants provide a continuous harvest for snacks, slicing, salsas or salads.

Cherry tomatoes are generally indeterminate and continue producing until a killing frost comes through. The ‘Sweet 100’ is a sweet red standard. ‘Black Cherry’ is a wonderful heirloom with fruit that is almost a dark purple in color.

For salads, sandwiches and slicing, you still want to choose indeterminate plants. ‘Early Girl’ and ‘Celebrity’ are reliable short-season hybrids that do well here. ‘Beefsteak’ varieties like ‘Persimmon’ or ‘Cherokee Purple’ also do very well. For something in between cherry and regular size, look at varieties like ‘Ace’ or ‘4th of July.’ They produce abundant, medium-sized tomatoes within 50 to 75 days.

The shorter the growing days of the tomato variety, the better for our area. Short growing seasons are common in northern Nevada. In the Truckee Meadows, our growing season is around 90 to 120 days. In Tahoe and the north valleys, it is even shorter.

Paste or canning tomatoes are, in general, determinate bush varieties. Determinant tomato varieties only set flowers for a short period of time, and then focus all of their energy on producing fruit. ‘San Marzano’ and a wide variety of ‘Romas,’ including ‘Orange,’ ‘Striped/Speckled,’ ‘Yellow Candle’ or ‘Jumbo’ ripen in about 68 to 80 days.

Whatever you decide to grow, try something new if you have room. You never know which tomato will become your new favorite.

To learn more, attend the Grow Your Own, Nevada! “Growing Tomatoes” class, held 6-8 p.m. April 6. Register online at http://www.growyourownnevada.com/.

Wendy Hanson Mazet is a horticulturist and certified arborist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have questions about your plants? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.

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