There are two kinds of gardeners in the Souththose who have grown tomatoes and those who will grow them. No other crop produces so much for so many for so little expense. Just about everyone swears by his or her own favorite method of growing tomatoes. If yours works, stick with itbut if you're a beginner or dissatisfied with the results you've achieved thus far, the following information should help.
First, choose selections adapted to your area. Those listed on the following pages perform well in most of the South. Fine-tune these recommendations by checking with local garden centers and your Cooperative Extension Service. Next, decide whether you want big tomatoes for slicing, meaty ones for canning and sauce, or small ones for popping into your mouth.
Factor into the equation when you expect to plant and how long you want to wait for harvest. It's hard to go wrong with midseason types; they ripen fruit anywhere from 60 to 75 days after transplants are set out. But if it's midsummer and you're trying to squeeze in a fall crop before frost, you'll need to plant an early tomato that ripens in 50 to 60 days. Late tomatoes that ripen in 80 to 95 days are best planted in spring.
Also consider how much fruit you want and how much space you can devote to your plants. Tomato plants (Solanum lycopersicum, native to the Andes) are classified as either determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes are bushy and ripen all of their fruit over several weeks; they need less space and support than indeterminate types. Indeterminate tomatoes are vinelike and ripen their fruit over a period of months; they give more total fruit but need more space and support.
The following lists offer just a sampling of the incredible number of different tomatoes you can buy as seeds or started plants.
Main crop or midseason tomatoes. 'Atkinson', 'Better Boy', 'Big Boy', 'Celebrity', 'Creole', 'Floramerica', 'Rutgers', and 'Supersonic' are among the most widely grown.
Early tomatoes. When you want the first tomato on the block or aim to get a fall crop in just under the wire, try 'Burpee's Early Pick', 'Early Girl', 'First Lady', 'Fourth of July', 'Park's Early Challenge'. 'Quick Pick', and 'Stupice'.
Late tomatoes. These generally taste better than early types, because plants have more time to develop flavor. 'Abraham Lincoln', 'Arkansas Traveler', 'Homestead 24', 'Mule Team', and 'Tropic' are delicious examples.
Heat-tolerant tomatoes. Tomato plants often fail to set fruit once daytime temperatures rise above 95F and night temperatures exceed 78F. Those that bear up under the heat include midseason 'Atkinson', 'Creole', 'Heatwave', 'Homestead', 'Neptune', 'Ozark Pink', 'Pink Girl', 'Sioux', 'Solar Set', 'Sun Chaser', 'Sun Leaper', and 'Sunmaster'; paste tomato 'Viva Italia'; cherry tomato 'Sun Gold'; and heirloom 'Arkansas Traveler'.
Large-fruited tomatoes. These grow to full size where the growing season is warm and long. Fruit can weigh several pounds. 'Beefsteak', 'Beefmaster', 'Big Boy', 'Brandywine', 'German Johnson', 'Mortgage Lifter', and 'Watermelon Beefsteak' are typical. 'Burpee Supersteak' can produce 2-pound fruit; 'Goliath' weighs in at 3 pounds; 'Giant Belgium' has tipped the scales at 5 pounds; and 'Delicious' has produced a tomato weighing 7 pounds, 12 ounces for Gordon Graham of Edmond, Oklahoma.
Small-fruited tomatoes. Plants bear large clusters of round, oblong, or pear-shaped fruit that ranges from grape size to cherry size. Grape types include 'Cupid', 'Ildi', 'Juliet', 'Rosalita', and 'Summer Sweet'. Among standard cherry types are 'Black Cherry', 'Blush', 'Gardener's Delight', 'Jolly', 'Mexico Midget', 'Pink Bumble Bee', 'Purple Bumble Bee', 'Sun Gold', 'Supersweet 100', 'Sweet 100', 'Sweet Baby Girl', and 'Sweet Million'. 'Yellow Pear' and 'Red Pear' are pear-shaped novelties. Small-fruited types that grow on dwarf plants suitable for pots or hanging baskets include 'Cherry Falls', 'Florida Basket', 'Florida Petite', 'Micro-Tom', 'Patio', 'Red Robin', 'Small Fry', and 'Tiny Tim'.
Paste tomatoes. These bear prodigious quantities of meaty, oval fruit. Often called plum tomatoes, they're favorites for canning, sauces, and tomato paste. Look for 'La Roma', 'Plum Dandy', 'Roma', 'Super San Marzano', and 'Viva Italia'.
Novelty tomatoes. Among these are selections of various colors: yellow ('Lemon Boy', 'Mountain Gold', 'Yellow Brandywine'), orange ('Orange Banana', 'Orange Queen', 'Sun Gold'), white ('New Snowball', 'White Beauty'), green ('Evergreen'), deep reddish brown ('Black Prince'), purple ('Cherokee Purple', 'Black Krim', 'Paul Robeson'), and even striped ('Green Zebra', 'Mr. Stripey', 'Tigerella'). 'Caro Rich' is very high in vitamin A and beta carotene. 'Health Kick' contains 50% more of the antioxidant lycopene than other tomatoes. Tomatoes in the Indigo series were bred for high levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which gives them a deep purple, eggplant-like color. 'Long Keeper' stays fresh in storage (at 6070F) for three months. 'Red Stuffer' and 'Yellow Stuffer' produce large, hollow fruit that resembles bell peppers.
Heirloom tomatoes. Varying in size, appearance, and growth habit, these represent old types lovingly maintained by tomato growers all over the country. 'Brandywine', thought to have been developed by the Pennsylvania Amish, is considered by many to be the best-tasting tomato of all. Unfortunately, it doesn't like our Southern summers. Better bets for the South include 'Arkansas Traveler', 'Black Krim', 'Cherokee Purple', 'Eva Purple Ball', 'German Johnson', 'Giant Belgium', 'Kellogg's Breakfast', 'Mule Team', 'Mortgage Lifter', 'Pineapple', 'Pink Berkeley Tie Dye', and 'Virginia Sweets' .
Determinate tomatoes. Examples of these bushy types include 'Amelia', 'BHN 602', 'Celebrity', 'Floramerica', 'Health Kick', 'Heatwave', 'La Roma', 'Long Keeper', 'Patio', 'Rutgers', 'Sunmaster', and 'Viva Italia'.
Indeterminate tomatoes. 'Arkansas Traveler', 'Atkinson', 'Beefmaster', 'Better Boy', 'Big Boy', 'Creole', 'Delicious', 'Early Girl', 'First Lady', 'German Johnson', 'Juliet', 'Mortgage Lifter', 'Park's Whopper CR Improved', 'Supersonic', and 'Sweet Million' are just a few of the plants in the vinelike category.
Grafted tomatoes. These plants are made by attaching the top part of the desired selection (the scion) to an extra vigorous rootstock chosen for its resistance to pests and soil-borne diseases. This results in increased uptake of water and nutrients, better resistance to environmental stresses, and bigger harvests of high-quality fruit. Grafting has long been used on woody plants (such as roses and fruit trees), but it seems to work just as well for herbaceous plants like tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers. A major benefit here is that it allows Southerners to grow certain heirloom types that otherwise struggle in our climate.