Extending Your Tomato Harvest
Stephen Brueggerhoff, CEA – Horticulture; Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service 4/26/2021
Tomatoes are currently well on their way to producing delicious fruit, with harvest anticipated anytime between mid-May to early June. I have witnessed fellow gardeners planting them in the ground the first week of March to ensure early harvest, and often limiting to one or two varietal choices. We have an opportunity to extend production by cultivating more than one tomato variety and staggering plantings.
Estimating harvest is based on the individual varietal date for maturity, as well as varietal growth forms called determinate and indeterminate. Determinate, or “bush” tomatoes, are varieties that grow between 3 to 4-feet tall and require limited staking for support. All fruits from determinate varieties ripen at approximately the same time. Indeterminate varieties will grow and produce fruit for a longer period and throughout their season, and often require trellising or stout cages to support vigorous growth. Early, mid, and late season varieties can either be determinate or indeterminate. Early variety fruit can mature in 50 to 60 days and are often cultivated for early harvests and late summer planting for a fall crop. Compare with late season varieties that produce fruit from 80 to 100 days and harvest occurs when early set varieties play out.
Extending production by cultivating more than one tomato variety and staggering plantings can be achieved by growing plants from seed. Research seed catalogs to project varietal days to harvest, determinate or indeterminate growth, fruit type such as cherry, hand-sized or beefsteak, as well as varietal capacity for disease resistance. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable Specialist Dr. Joe Masabni offers practical advice when planning this kind of cultivation. Tomato seeds can take from 12 to 15 weeks from seed to first harvest, and second planting production can be estimated when the first planting has past peak production. Seed the second planting five to six weeks after the first planting to extend harvest into mid-summer.
Some of our favorite tomato varieties will stop producing in mid to late summer. When average nighttime temps are at or above 80 degrees, pollen development is affected, and higher temps also increases the chance of anther drop. There are also heat-tolerant varieties that offer the potential to grow tomatoes into summer. Heat tolerant varieties include Mountain Supreme, Heatwave II, Sunmaster, Solar Fire and Solar Set. These are all determinate varieties that mature in approximately 70 days.
In coordination with the Brazoria County Master Gardeners, we are currently trialing ten different tomato varieties to make recommendations for county residents. Super San Marzano and Paisano for paste tomatoes, Grand Marshall and Cherokee Chocolate for beefsteak, Defiant and Paul Robeson for mid-sized slicers, Black Cherry and Salisaw Café for cherry tomatoes, and Taxi and Lemon Boy for yellow varieties. I encourage readers to continue healthy eating habits by consuming tomatoes. According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Path to Plate initiative, tomatoes are fat-free, low in sodium, and a good source of vitamins A and C. Among a variety of vegetables that provide nutrition, tomatoes can provide 15% value of daily recommended vitamin C that is promoted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
I invite you to join us and celebrate tomatoes toward the end of May at our Open Garden event. We will be featuring tomatoes we have grown through research, as well as a presentation by yours truly on tomato culture. To find out more information about our programs, visit us online: https://brazoria.agrilife.org. I also encourage you to share your recommended tomato varieties by browsing online to my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/horticulturiststephenb. Cheers to you, and I’ll see you in the garden.