How to Harvest Ripe Juicy Tomatoes When You Think You Can’t
Do you dream of harvesting lush, juicy tomatoes from your own backyard, but have a difficult time growing them because of extreme heat, cool temperatures, or partial shade?
Don’t give up! By selecting the right varieties, and using a few simple tips, you may finally be able to harvest the perfect tomato from your own garden!
Here are six varieties for tough conditions, along with some simple gardening tips to go with them:
Many tomatoes stop setting or ripening fruit when temperatures regularly exceed 90 F. If you provide afternoon shade and regular irrigation, you may extend the harvest season of heat tolerant varieties up to about 95 F.
However, it can be extremely challenging to harvest fresh tomatoes when temperatures start to exceed 95 F. Here are two varieties that often continue producing after other varieties have stopped:
65 days. This is an excellent open-pollinated tomato for hot, dry climates. Produces red fruit nearly 2” in size. Very early and productive, with great flavor. Has carrot-like feathery leaves on 4-foot high semi-determinate plants. Stakes or cages may be useful to provide extra support for these plants. This variety produced all summer long for an Abundant Mini Gardens member in Arizona. (Thanks for sharing, Mary!)
75 days. This is a hybrid variety created in Florida to better tolerate high heat and humidity. It produces red 6-8 ounce firm fruit that resists cracking. A 4 to 5-foot tall bush type. Don’t try trellising this variety, though stakes or cages may be used to provide extra support. Also resistant to fusarium races 1, 2, and 3, as well as gray-leaf spot. Best for fresh eating, not canned or cooked.
Tips for growing tomatoes in very hot weather:
- Give them morning sun and afternoon shade (use a shade cloth, if necessary).
- Cover the soil with a few inches of mulch to help keep it cooler.
- Keep the soil evenly moist with regular irrigation.
The fruit of tomatoes often stop ripening in extremely hot temperatures, or they may be ripe when they turn orange instead of their normal red. When extreme temperatures arrive, you may want to harvest the fruit early, as soon as they show any color, and let them finish ripening indoors.
Tomatoes are heat-loving plants. Their ideal temperature range is generally between 80-90 F highs, and 60-75 F lows. If the average temperatures during your growing season are much below that, most tomatoes won’t thrive.
Even if your tomato plants aren’t damaged by frost, many varieties may produce poorly for weeks after a prolonged exposure to temperatures below 50-55 F – even if it happens before the plants have started blooming.
However, plant breeders (both amateurs and professionals) have been working steadily over many years to develop tomato varieties that can produce well in less than ideal temperatures. Here’s a couple of varieties that you may find useful:
60 days. This is a cold-tolerant heirloom variety bred in Czechoslovakia. Starts ripening early and continues all summer long. Produces 2-3” red fruit with great flavor. Good choice for salads and juicing. Won a taste test in San Francisco, known for its very cool summer weather. Highly productive indeterminate vines with potato-like leaves. It can be trellised. (Also tolerates partial shade in warm climates.)
70 days. A well-known open-pollinated slicing variety, bred at Oregon State University. Bush determinate type, so don’t try to trellis (stakes or cages are OK). Oregon Spring can produce very early yields of 4-6 ounce tomatoes when planted outside in cool spring weather. Flesh is firm and meaty, with good flavor and very few seeds. Great choice for sauces or paste. Parthenocarpic variety (can produce fruit without pollination). Verticillium resistant.
Tips for growing tomatoes in cool weather:
- Give your tomatoes full sun when growing them in cool climates
- Avoid covering the soil with mulch before it gets warm (if at all).
- Grow your tomatoes under hoop tunnels to speed ripening and improve flavor.
A lot of gardeners are struggling to grow tomatoes in partial shade. Partial shade for tomatoes is roughly 5 to 6 hours of mid-day sunlight in most climates. Few tomatoes will produce well with less than 5 hours of mid-day sun. They also may not produce well if their only sunlight is early morning and/or late afternoon, even if it totals 6 hours, as the sunlight at that time of day is much weaker.
However, tomatoes may require much more than 6 hours of sunlight to produce well in climates with cool summers (below 80 F highs, or 60 F lows). On the other hand, many tomatoes may produce OK will a little less than 6 hours of sun in hot sunny climates.
Growing tomato plants in partial shade can be challenging. In many ways, it’s similar to the difficulties of growing them in cool weather. Just be aware that they may:
- Take longer to ripen their fruit
- Produce a smaller harvest
- Have less flavorful fruit
- Have thinner and lankier vines
85 days. An heirloom tomato from an Amish community in Wisconsin. Large, meaty, 8-12 ounce heart-shaped red fruit. One of the few paste tomatoes that’s great for both cooking down and fresh eating. Excellent flavor with fewer seeds. Sweeter than other paste varieties. An indeterminate vine that’s great for trellising. My plants often grow 8 feet high, so provide tall sturdy trellises. (May also tolerate cooler climates in full sun.)
65 days. This hybrid golden-orange cherry tomato starts producing early, and continues all season long. Most families only need one plant, as it can produce a huge harvest. Very sweet, intensely-flavored 1 ounce orange fruit is produced in long clusters. Very popular for fresh snacking. For the richest flavor, harvest when they reach their deepest orange color. This indeterminate variety is resistant to many diseases: verticillium wilt (V), fusarium (F), and tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). Sungold needs a tall, sturdy trellis in small gardens, as the vines can grow very long.
Tips for growing tomatoes in partial shade:
- Use white or reflective material to reflect more sunlight on your plant
- Mid-day sun is much better for tomatoes than sunlight early or late in the day
- Avoid covering the plant with row cover, which can further reduce available sunlight
- Most cherry or grape tomatoes require less sun than large-fruiting tomato varieties
These six varieties are just a few among the literally hundreds of tomato varieties to choose from. Not only do different varieties produce better in different regions, but their flavor varies quite a lot, too. It can be a lot of fun to experiment with the ones that are recommended for your particular location and climate.
Have you found varieties that work particular well in your garden? Go ahead and share your recommendations below. Be sure to include some basic information about your region and climate, so other readers can decide if this variety might be worth trying in their garden, too!