Talking tomatoes

Warm days have gardeners talking tomatoes. It is too early to plant tomatoes outdoors, but it's not too early to order or purchase seeds. One online site that offers help on choosing and growing tomato varieties is Ohio State Cooperative Extension's, http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1624.html

Another is Vermont Cooperative Extension's, http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/envirohort/426-418/426-418.html

Both sources recommend choosing varieties with disease-resistance bred in them for best results. Letters after the variety's name indicate tolerance or resistance to certain diseases. Here are some examples of diseases and the letters that indicate that a plant is resistant to them. Look for these letters after a variety's name on seed packets or in catalogs.

n Fusarium wilt race 1(F)

n Fusarium wilt race 1 and race 2 (FF)

n Early blight (As)

n Bacterial speck (B)

n Root-knot nematodes (N)

n Septoria leaf spot (L)

n Tobacco mosaic virus (T)

n Stemphylium gray leaf spot (St)

n Alternaria stem canker and crown wilt (A)

In Nevada, we generally do not have nematode problems, but early and late blights pose problems. Tobacco mosaic virus can also be a problem, particularly if you or someone in your home is a smoker. Disease resistance can be an important consideration, especially if you have experienced problems with tomatoes in the past.

My Ohio colleagues note some additional tomato traits to consider. Midget, patio, or dwarf tomato varieties have very compact vines, and are best grown in hanging baskets or other containers. The tomatoes they produce may be, but are not necessarily, the cherry type with a 1-inch diameter or less. These plants are usually short-lived, producing their crop quickly and for just a short period.

Compact or determinate tomato plants grow to a certain size, set fruit, and then decline. Most of the early ripening tomato varieties are determinate. Indeterminate tomato plants are the opposite of determinate ones. The vines of indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow until frost or disease kills them. These are the standard tomato plants that produce all summer, which most people like to grow. However, they require support of some kind for best results. Otherwise, the tomatoes touch the soil, making them susceptible to rot. In catalogs and on seed packets, the letter "D" indicates that a variety is a determinate type. If a "D" is not listed, the tomato variety is indeterminate.

Tomatoes are designated as early, mid-season, or late-developing, depending upon the number of days it takes the tomato plant to develop fruit after being transplanted. The earliest ripening variety that I have seen is Siberian, ripening in 48 days. It is an indeterminate variety with 3- to 5-ounce tomatoes that develop just seven weeks after transplanting. Black Brandywine has an 80- to 120-day season. Our growing season fluctuates with weather, and can range from 80 to 120 days.

Next week, I'll give tips on starting tomatoes from seed, so get ready to put those green thumbs to work.

Contact me at 887-2252 or skellyj@unce.unr.edu, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office, for more gardening information. Or, check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu. "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu.

n JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City-Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

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