There are lots of diseases that affect tomatoes. My colleague Dr. Christine Smart, a plant pathologist at Cornell, says the most effective thing a gardener can do is choose hybrids with the best disease resistance. If a variety is resistant, you no longer need to worry about that disease.
There is one disease where a specific resistance may be referred to on the label. That’s late blight. This is a disease caused by a fungus-like pathogen, the same disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine in the 19th century. It can devastate tomatoes (and potatoes) in a few days and its spores can fly through the air and infect plants miles away. Although devastating, we don’t see it here every year and it’s virulence depends on three things.
First, it has to be present in the environment. Second, weather conditions need to be optimum for spread. Mild, cloudy weather with high humidity and showers are ideal. Sunny, dry weather prevents spread. And finally, you need to have a susceptible plant.
Up until about 10 years ago, we had no late-blight-resistant tomato varieties. But that has now changed. ‘Brandywise’ is a good example of this resistance. And typically, if a variety has resistance to late blight it will also show resistance to other diseases like early blight or Septoria.
There are a few more terms you may see as you research which tomatoes to grow. A beefsteak type will be large-fruited (8 to 12 ounces or larger) and great for slicing. Cherry and grape types are small, usually less than an inch in diameter. Paste tomatoes are used for making sauce. They typically have few seeds and less liquid. Dwarf or compact varieties are your best choices for pots or containers.
The majority of tomatoes are red, of course. But there are lots of other colors available. Yellow, orange, purple and even some that are completely green when ripe. Most tomatoes are roundish but there are some that are more oblong, or pear shaped.
It might be a good idea to bring your smartphone with you so you can look up variety names as you shop. Two websites in particular can help you learn more about different varieties: Rutgers’ Tomato Varieties website and Cornell’s Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners, a great site where you can see recommendations for all garden vegetables.
In the garden this week.
Seems like a few weeks ago we were concerned about it being too dry. Certainly not the case now. If your soil is dry enough to work, now is a good time to plant all the “cole” crops (cabbage, broccoli, etc.), leafy greens, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, and radish. Now’s a good time to clean/sterilize your used tomato stakes and cages. Bacterial diseases can easily overwinter and infest this year’s crop. Clean off any dirt and debris and soak for at least 10 minutes with a bleach solution (1 part bleach and 9 parts water), remove, and let air dry.
Common tomato varieties available locally in 2021
The following table includes brief descriptions of varieties available locally this spring. Thanks to Master Gardener Francine Stayter for visiting several garden centers and providing the list.
|Variety||Plant Description||Season||Fruit Size (oz.)||Fruit Color||Disease Resist.*|
|Better Boy||Indeterminate Hybrid||Mid||12||Red||VFN|
|Big Beef||Indeterminate Hybrid||Mid||10||Red||VFN, TMV|
|Big Boy||Indeterminate Hybrid||Mid||12||Red||Unknown|
OP – Heirloom
|Brandywise||Indeterminate Hybrid||Mid||12||Red||VFN, TMV, LB, EB|
|Celebrity||Semi-determinate Hybrid||Mid||10||Red||VFN, TMV|
OP - Heirloom
|Early Girl||Indeterminate Hybrid||Early||4||Red||VF|
Hybrid - Dwarf, Patio
|Husky Cherry Red||Indeterminate|
Hybrid - Dwarf
|Jet Star||Indeterminate Hybrid||Mid||10||Red||VF|
|Lemon Boy||Indeterminate Hybrid||Late||7||Yellow||VFN|
OP - Heirloom
|Park's Whopper Improved||Indeterminate Hybrid||Mid||14||Red||VFN, TMV|
OP – Heirloom
OP - Paste
|Tumblin' Cherry, yellow and red||Determinate|
*V – Verticillium, F = Fusarium, N – Nematodes, TMV = Tobacco Mosaic Virus, LB = Late Blight, EB = Early Blight