Tags Articles tagged with "tomatoes"


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Master Gardener Julie Olson

By Julie Olson

Tomatoes are the most popular plant for the home gardener. Looking through a seed catalogue is a daunting experience and selecting which varieties to grow is a challenge.   Everyone has a favorite variety they grow every season. Whether growing plants from seed or purchasing them from your favorite nursery, there are several things to consider in your selection.

How will the fruit be used? The tiny cherry tomatoes, which are available in many colors, are great for salads.  Oblong paste tomatoes like Roma and San Marzano are meaty, and contain less juice. They`re great for salsa and recipes which require diced fruit.  The larger beefsteak style are sliced for sandwiches. Costoluto varieties are wonderful when used for roasting or stewing.  Each type of fruit contributes different characteristics which determine their best use.

How much garden space do you have? Plant breeders have developed compact sized plants which grow well in a large pot on the patio. These varieties usually produce smaller fruit with fewer per plant. The smaller fruit varieties can also be grown in patio pots. Bush style plants can support  themselves and don`t require being staked. These will take less room in your garden. Many hybrid plants are bush style. Vine tomatoes must be staked or surrounded by cages. The sprawling habit can cover a large area if not controlled. Most of the favorite heirloom plants are considered a vine style.

Do you want lots of fruit at one time? If you are canning and preserving tomatoes, a determinate variety will produce fruit which ripens within a concentrated time period.  Celebrity is an example of a determinate variety. Most heirloom tomatoes are considered indeterminate.  These varieties will fruit over an extended time. Some examples are Brandywine, Cherokee Carbon and Costoluto Genovese. Determinate or indeterminate type will be indicated on the plant tag or seed package of each variety.

Heirloom verses hybrid tomato? Heirloom varieties have withstood the test of time. Seed has been saved and passed down through generations of growers. Heirlooms are almost as famous for being fickle in the garden as they are for their wonderful taste.

Hybrid varieties are cross pollinated from two different plants. They have been developed by growers for extra disease resistance, size or flavor. Fruit usually has thicker shin which allows for less cracking.

Tomatoes are available in a multitude of colors and sizes.  Newly developed are the Artisan varieties. These are elongated cherry shape, small in size, multicolored and many times striped. Colors range from pale gold, green with yellow, orange mixed with red or gold.

No matter your preference, a tomato has been grown or developed to please you. Now- back to the original question, How many tomatoes are there?  Listed heirlooms are about 3000 varieties.  Approximately 15,000 hybrids have been developed, with more to come.

Julie Olson is a member of the Maricopa Master Gardeners. They can be reached at macmastergardener@gmail.com.

This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

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By Al Brandenburg

Coming from upstate New York, I’ve always had several varieties of tomatoes and peppers in my garden. For those of you who have tasted a freshly grown tomato, you know that store-bought tomatoes don’t even begin to compare in taste or texture.

So, maybe you have decided to try growing tomatoes and peppers this year. If so, I would like to give you some tips that may help you grow wonderful tomatoes as well as delicious sweet or hot peppers. So, let’s get started:

Determine the right time to plant. If you are growing from seed, the first week in January is ideal as both tomatoes and peppers require at least 6 to 8 weeks from sowing seed in pots to planting. Tomato seeds should be started indoors and then transplanted to your beds once they have a few leaves and an established root system. Tomato seeds need a constant soil temperature of at least 60 degrees, and preferably 80 degrees, to germinate. I put my started plants in the ground the last week in February (assuming no danger of frost) or the first week in March.

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Planting seeds indoors. You will need a good light source. I use fluorescent 4-foot lamps with GE grow lights (not regular lamps) hanging from chains so I can adjust the height as the seedlings grow. Soilless potting mix (available at any garden center) is the medium of choice. Cell packs are OK for starting seeds, but a better idea is to use a small pot at least 3 or 4 inches tall and wide so the seedlings can grow to a healthy size without their roots being constricted. Plant two seeds in each pot to assure germination success. A heat mat and controller will greatly help warm the soil as well as accelerate the growth process. Be careful not to overwater as you will risk dampening and killing the seedling.

Selecting seeds and plants. Tomatoes are classified as either Determinate types (puts out fruit just once) and Indeterminate types (puts out fruit for the entire growing season). If you decide to buy ready-to-plant vegetables in your garden, keep in mind the garden centers get many varieties from their vendors that don’t necessarily grow well here. As an alternative, on the first Saturday in March each year the local Master Gardener group has a plant sale at the Maricopa Agricultural Center. They offer varieties that have proven to do well here.

If you decide to plant from seed, many of the seed catalog houses offer a wide spectrum of regular and heirloom seed varieties. For regular tomatoes, I have had great success with Super Sioux, Black from Tula (both draught and heat tolerant), Cherokee Purple, Paul Robeson and Celebrity. For cherry tomatoes, I recommend Sweet Million and Sun Gold. San Marzano and Roma are great sauce varieties. For sweet peppers, North Star (bell) and Italia do very well here. For hot peppers, Joe E. Parker or any of the chiles and serranos will do well.

Select the ideal location for planting in the soil. Tomatoes and peppers require at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Make sure you plant them in a location that gets shade in the afternoon, so when the weather heats up and the sun is higher in the sky, your plants will survive much better. Plant tomatoes and peppers at least one foot apart and deep enough for the soil to be just above the very bottom leaves. Make sure the hole is four times wider than your root ball. About the first week in May, place shade cloth over your tomatoes to keep the plants from stressing. You can build a framework out of wood or PVC pipe to create a proper frame for the cloth.

Use a good support and water regularly. Most tomatoes require staking. You can use wooden stakes, a trellis, or any other means of support. Some varieties of peppers grow very tall, so some support will help the branches from sagging. Water every other day in the spring and once a day for an hour when it starts to get hot. Do not overwater; it is the No. 1 reason for plant failure here in the desert. To help keep those pesky white flies off your plants use NEEM oil (readily available in garden stores) mixed with some safe-to-use insecticide. Spray under the leaves once a week. You should have tomatoes and peppers by mid-April, so get ready to feast on your favorite sandwiches and sauces.





Al Brandenburg is a Master Gardener and Maricopa resident.

This column appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

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Ideally, grafting can extend the growing season for tomatoes in Arizona. Photo by Carol Howerton

By Carol Howerton

Carol Howerton. Submitted photo

Grafted tomato plants are all the rage these days. They promise increased disease resistance and hardier, more vigorous plants with bigger and better yields. Sounds great, right? But these plants are pricey, ranging from $8-$20 per plant. Are they worth the extra cost for the home gardener in our desert environment?

For the past three years, the Master Gardeners at the Maricopa Agricultural Center have been grafting and growing tomatoes to find the answer to this question. We chose heirloom varieties that everyone loves, like Brandywine and Cherokee Purple because they are not known to do well in our hot climate. Could we find a way through grafting to extend the growing season and harvest more of these wonderful tomatoes? And could we develop a system that would be effective and low-cost so anyone can graft tomatoes at home?

The rootstock varieties chosen were drought-tolerant and vigorous, but any hardy tomato variety can be used such as the Super Sweet 100 Cherry or Sweet Million. Once the desired tomato variety (called the scion) was grafted on to the rootstock, they were put into a healing chamber for 7-10 days.

The chamber can be any enclosure that blocks or limits light and allows for humid conditions. We used Styrofoam ice chests, but plastic storage bins covered with towels also work well. The ideal temperature inside the healing chamber is 80-85 degrees and, to keep the humidity in the 90-95 percent range, we misted the plants daily using spray bottles.

The goal of the healing chamber is to create a low-stress environment where the scion and rootstock can fuse and grow together as one plant. No light is let in for the first two days. Gradually light is increased to bring the plants back to normal growing conditions.

Many of the grafted plants do not survive for a variety of reasons. Genetic incompatibilities, mismatched stem size of the rootstock and scion or the healing environment itself are a few of the reasons for graft failures. No one will have a 100 percent success rate.

When transplanting a grafted plant into your garden, be sure to have the graft union above the soil line or the rootstock can regrow and take over your garden. You will see the graft line as a scar at the graft point.

Grafting is exciting and fun, not difficult and, with the right supplies, pretty inexpensive to do at home. The problems here in Maricopa and Pinal County are more about disease spread by insects than soil-borne diseases and our hot dry climate. We planted grafted and non-grafted varieties in our Demonstration Garden and in home test gardens. To answer our question of whether it is worth doing yourself or paying higher prices for grafted plants, I will leave that up to you to decide. We did not see any noticeable increase in production or increase in the growing season.

Carol Howerton is a member of Maricopa Master Gardeners.

This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

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By Betty Beeman

Betty Beeman
Betty Beeman

According to the National Gardening Association, tomatoes are the most popular vegetable among backyard gardeners.

According to a 2014 survey, one in three American households has a vegetable garden and nearly 9 in 10 of those gardens include tomatoes. Nothing tastes as good as a ripe, home-grown tomato.

There are thousands of tomato varieties, but all fall into a few broad categories:

1. Cherry tomatoes, such as Sun Gold, or Sweet Millions, have a sweet-tart tomato flavor and are great for salads and snacking on whole. Because the fruit is small, these are the first to mature.

2. Sauce tomatoes, such as Opalka, San Marzano or Grandma Mary’s Paste, have a rich flavor and much lower water content than other varieties. They are the best ones for spaghetti sauce.

3. Beefsteak tomatoes, such as Cherokee Chocolate, Brandywine or Homestead, have the biggest fruit and the greatest range of flavor and form. They are commonly sliced for sandwiches or cut up and added to salads, though the best varieties can be eaten like an apple.

MARCH TIPS: Plant seeds now for beets, carrots, sweet corn, cucumbers, cantaloupe, watermelon, green onions, spinach and sunflowers.

There are also many all-purpose tomato varieties that have traits from each category. Most of the round tennis ball-size tomatoes at the supermarket would be classed as all-purpose. These are usually modern hybrids that rarely match the complex flavor – and diverse appearances – of heirloom tomatoes.

Tomatoes grow best in moist soil and when the temperatures remain steadily in the 70 to 80 degree range. Our spring season is short, 60 to70 days for the optimal temperatures between 50 to 90 degrees.

Consider mixing peat moss into the soil to improve drainage. Prepare soil by digging down two feet. The hole needs to be deep enough that you can plant your transplant where only the top quarter of the plant will be sticking out of the ground.

Carefully take transplants out of pots and try not to disturb the roots during the transplanting process.

Mix native soil with equal amounts of peat or potting soil. Place a scoop of compost in the bottom of the hole. This will give your plant an extra boost and keep the plant from going into shock from transplanting. Fill in with garden mix and native soil, pat soil gently around tomato to firm. Water thoroughly.

To avoid the dreaded blossom end rot, be sure to keep the soil consistently moist and avoid letting the soil dry out. As the temperatures heat you should consider using a shade cloth over tomatoes.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders. Use Starter solution for transplants. Side dress 1-2 weeks before the first tomatoes ripen with 1½ ounces 33-0-0 per 10 foot row. Side dress again two weeks after the first ripe tomato with a balanced fertilizer such as 5-10-5. Repeat one month later.

Check out YouTube “Growing a Tomato Plant in the Desert” also “Desert Gardening with Carol Stuttard” (Master Gardener from Scottsdale) for more information.

Contact a Master Gardener volunteer

This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.