In some climates, tomatoes are endlessly bountiful. Here in the Pacific Northwest, where even in mid-summer temperatures remain moderate, tomatoes can be the most unpredictable and uncertain of crops. Professional growers in our area nearly always grow tomatoes under cover (meaning in a greenhouse or field tunnel), but this isn’t always a feasible option for the small-scale grower or home gardener. Regardless of your tomato management techniques, if you want a prolific and tasty harvest, it helps to start with the right varieties. Here is a short list of some of our favorite types, selected specifically to reflect the best varieties of 2014 (kind of like the Oscars for tomatoes):
Kellogg’s Breakfast: Big slicing tomatoes can be tough to grow in the Pacific Northwest, but last year these guys did great! They produced tons of vine-ripened fruit; the bright orange fruit are very large, sweet and juicy!
Cherokee Purple: Another big slicer that’s worth taking a chance on. These are some of the most flavorful large tomatoes we have ever tried, and the slices have incredible color to boot! Check out this photo from 2014 to see how beautiful they are.
Black Prince: We have been growing Black Prince for the past 5 seasons with consistent success. Because of their medium-small size, these dark purple heirloom slicing tomatoes are a reliable bet in the PNW even in mild summers.
Black Cherry: Many varieties of dark colored cherry tomatoes are making a splash in the most recent seed catalogs. This type is delicious and prolific.
Sungold: These have always been our favorite cherry tomato. Very prolific and delicious, because Sungolds don’t travel well, you won’t see them at grocery stores, but every home gardener and small farmer in the area should have these in their planting plan.
You can grow tomatoes from seed in your home nursery or purchase them from virtually any local nursery, garden center, hardware store or grocery store. If you grow your own, you have many more variety options and the added pleasure of tending the plants through the seedling stage. However, growing healthy and robust tomatoes from seed can be a relatively involved project. The seedlings require warm temperatures, frequent watering and great light conditions. If you don’t have the appropriate time/space to care for the plants through their relatively long grow-out phase (6-8 weeks indoors), consider purchasing them from a nursery right when you are ready to plant them outdoors.
While its not possible to cover the endless techniques and considerations for tomato production in a short blog, here are a few key concepts that will help you have the best tomato season yet (weather permitting):
Location: Select an especially sunny spot in the garden. Chances are that you will be growing indeterminate varieties (meaning they continue to grow all season and need a trellis), so take this into account when finding a good spot.
Trellising: As mentioned above, most tomato varieties require trellising. Make sure to set up the trellis on planting day. Tomato plants are very fragile and attempting to add a trellis to a large, sprawling plant will be frustrating at best (and very damaging to the plant at worst).
Pruning: Tomatoes benefit from mid and late season pruning. There are many schools of thought on the best way to prune a tomato, but by removing excess leaves and stems, you can improve airflow, increase production and make harvesting easier.