Charlie and I are currently writing a book, complete with photos of all the various types of edibles that we've had great success in growing in our own gardens and also down at the Garland Community Garden (4022 Naaman School Road). Here is a section from it on tomatoes to grow well in our local area. One caveat regarding "grow well": Provided the soil has been properly amended. Just sticking your plants into unamended Garland clay won't work. Tomatoes prefer soil that is slightly acid with a pH from 6.0 to 6.6. And like most plants, tomatoes prefer loose soil that drains well--not too fast and not too slow.
Tomatoes can be categorized as hybrid or heirloom. They can further be classified as determinate or indeterminate. Determinate varieties are sometimes called "bush" tomatoes. They grow to heights of three to four feet and are about two feet wide. Indeterminate varieties are sometimes called "vine" tomatoes. They can grow to heights of up to 10 feet (although most stop at about six feet) and will continue to produce fruit until the first frost.
NOTES ON HYBRID AND HEIRLOOM PLANTS
Hybrid and Heirloom can be emotional topics among organic gardeners. Some folks mistakenly conclude that a hybrid plant is the same as a GMO plant. They are mistaken. Cross-pollination is a natural process of crosses within the same plant species. It also occurs naturally in nature. GMOs most often mix genes from other species. Hybrids do make seeds but they do not "breed true." They do not produce seeds that will grow into plants exactly like themselves, because in the next generation, the genes have segregated into many new combinations. Heirlooms are much more reliable in term of producing like plants.
Heirlooms come from seeds that have been handed down from generation to generation in a particular region. Heirloom vegetables are open pollinated (by insects or the wind). Many say that heirloom vegetable varieties have the best taste; however, the downside of an heirloom is that its crop yields are not as predictable as those of the hybrid and often the vegetables are not uniform in appearance like those in the grocery store. At the Garland Community Garden we have three heirloom tomato plants. One is a Roma tomato that is growing in the blue pot on the left as you face the front of the concrete raised bed. We also have two additional heirloom tomatoes growing in the square foot garden. Both of these are cherry tomatoes.
While heirlooms are more likely to produce plants exactly like the plant that produced its seed, this is not always the case. It is possible for a plant (even an heirloom) to cross pollinate with a plant near to it and thus yield a different tasting vegetable the next season. Peppers, for example, are notorious for cross pollinating. If you plant Bell pepper or sweet pepper by a hot pepper such as a Habanera, you will end up with some hot (or hotter than usual) Bell peppers next year if you use those Bell pepper seeds.
My Three Favorite Tomato Plants
Tycoons are at the top of my list. (A hybrid determinate and a Texas Superstar Tomato)
I couldn't agree more with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service who named the Tycoon tomato a Texas Superstar because of its strong disease package and desirable consumer traits. David Rodriguez, a Bexar County AgriLife Extension agent and a member of the Texas Superstar selection board, said the variety is resistant to tomato yellow leaf curl virus, which has become a problem for many other varieties in recent years, according to a news release. The Tycoon is touted as being even better than the Celebrity--a very popular commercial hybrid. It is very meaty and tasty.
The tycoons I planted are producing medium-sized perfect tomatoes as you can see from the photo above of a tomato I harvested from the Garland Community Garden. The tomato is flawless. It is very pretty--inside and out. I purchased the Tycoons as small plants at the Bruce Miller nursery in Richardson, Texas.
Tomato Phoenix (determinate hybrid)
These tomatoes are another recommendation from me. As you can see from the photo above which was taken in the Garland Community Garden this morning, the Phoenix is quite prolific. My plants came from Harry's Greenhouse in Weatherford Texas. They are drought resistant and hardy plants. Phoenix tomatoes won't crack. On top of that, the tomato is tasty. I purchased them at Bruce Millers on Beltline in Richardson Texas earlier this spring.
Sun Gold (a indeterminate hybrid yellow cherry tomato)
As for cherry tomatoes, Sun Golds are a hearty, prolific, disease resistant variety. As for taste: they can't be beat. In fact, you could serve Sun Golds as dessert in some circles and get away with it. These plants bear the sweet fruit well into fall and also make a great fall-planted crop in warm regions. If space is tight, try Sun Gold in containers—big ones 20 to 24 inches in diameter to fit the big plant.You won't be disappointed. Plants definitely need staking or tall cafes; gardeners report this tomato to grow as tall as 10 feet. The indeterminate vines are resistant to many diseases: verticillium wilt (V), fusarium (F), and tobacco mosaic virus. Sun Golds are said to reach heights of up to 10 feet--although most stop at about six feet. These plant definitely need to be staked and/or trellised.
You can see at least 7 Sun Gold tomato plants at the Garland Community Garden. (Look at the Winding Garden in the back of the site.)
Yes, you can grow tomatoes in pots. No, you are not limited to "Patio" varieties.
As for growing tomatoes in pots, don't let anyone tell you it can't be done! Any tomato that can be grown in the soil can be grown in a pot. Some of the best tomatoes I've grown have been in pots. Again, a key element is your soil. For my potted plants I always make sure to have a ratio of 1/3 vermiculite to my soil so that it stays loose and fluffy thus providing the opportunity for plenty of oxygen for the roots. Another important consideration is the size of the pot. Ideally the container should be no smaller than 8 gallons; but I have seen great tomatoes growing in a five gallon homer bucket (with lots of holes drilled in the bottom for drainage).
Two huge healthy heirloom tomato plants growing in recycled trash barrels at the Garland Community Garden.
Charlie's Three Favorites: Celebrity, Better Boy and Husky
When it comes to prolific tomato production, Charlie is the undisputed champion--at least among the members of Loving Garland Green. Thus far this year his garden has yielded over 130 pounds of tomatoes and all his plants are still producing. This is all the more remarkable if you will consider that his garden consists of raised beds built on flagstone around his swimming pool.
Charlie sticks with the traditional commercial hybrids: Celebrity, Better Boy and Husky (a cherry tomato).
June 29, 2014 - One of Charlie's one-pound Better Boys
The Better Boy Tomato
After I've seen Charlie's Better Boy plants in action this year, I'm definitely trying one of these plants next year. One Better Boy plant once yielded more than 340 pounds (154 kg) of fruit, earning it a Guinness World Record. It's common for a Better Boy plant to yield 16 ounce tomatoes. Charlie had several that weighed a pound and more this year. The tomatoes are perfect for slicing, canning and making into sauces. These plants need at least one inch (2.5 cm) of water per week and prefer six hours or more of direct sun each day. Better Boys are indeterminate hybrids that can reach 6 to 8 feet tall. They need to be staked.
Charlies Husky Cherry Tomatoes Growing by the Pool
Husky Cherry Tomato
These plants are tidy and compact--thus making them ideal for containers. And yes, they are delicious too. They are about one inch in diameter--just the right size for popping into one's mouth whole. I call them "Junior" tomatoes because they have all the traditional slightly acidic taste of a larger tomato which is unlike the Sun Gold cherry tomatoes which are entirely and wonderfully sweet. Next year I'll have a Husky and a Sun Gold plant.
Like the Better Boy, the Celebrity tomatoes are also tasty and prolific. However, they are my least favorite of all the varieties of tomatoes that we have grown this year. Their skin is a little tough and the tops of these tomatoes have a tendency to split prior to ripening--thus making them easy targets for insects. But I may not be fair here. We've had an unusual summer with some hot weather followed up by heavy rains. When this happens, the tomato can absorb too much water through its stem scar, thus causing the fruit to split in a radial pattern around the stem. Charlie might give them a second chance next year, but I won't.