tips for tomatoes
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Yes, there are varieties of tomato plants that set extremely well with cool weather and short days.

by John Bagnasco

Because of a climate that remains relatively frost-free, Southern California is a perfect location to grow these vegetable gems. For somewhat colder areas, try planting in containers that can be moved to protect when there is a danger of a freeze.

“Winter” tomatoes are actually a group of varieties that will set fruit with temperatures in the thirties and forties, unlike standard varieties which require temperatures above 60 degrees to fruit. These types have been developed in colder climates like Russia and Canada and often have names reflecting their origin, such as ‘Siberia’, ‘Manitoba’ and ‘Moscow’.

While this group sets fruit in colder conditions, they will not put on plant growth under those conditions. So, it is necessary to plant these varieties in July and August, when they can put on growth to develop a sturdy plant that will fruit in the colder months. Remember, winter tomatoes are not simply short-season varieties like ‘Early Girl’, which still needs warm nights to set fruit. Instead, they are selections that produce under chilly conditions.

Since most of the cool season varieties will be unavailable at local stores, now is the perfect time to start them from seed. There are no cool season tomatoes that taste better than summer fruit, but all taste better than store-bought fruit.

Here are a few choices:

  • Glacier – 63 days. Semi-indeterminate. Extremely early. cold-tolerant, high-yielding special strain of tomato plant. Begins flowering when only 4in high and bears tasty tomatoes only 45 days from flowering.
  • Glasnost – 62 days. Indeterminate. Siberia. A most beautiful tomato. Surprisingly large, 3”, 6-12oz. Fruits. Shiny, smooth, deep orange-red skin with a dense, meaty interior. Excellent flavor.
  • Silvery Fir Tree – 58 days, Determinate. Unusual Russian variety. Distinctive carrot-like silvery-gray foliage on compact 24″ plants. Heavy crops of round slightly flattened 3-3 1/2″ red fruit. Extremely decorative. Small plants that produce good yields of fruit. One of the best varieties for small spaces and containers.
  • Stupice – 52 days. Indeterminate. A native of Czechoslovakia, where its extreme earliness, tolerance to cold, superior flavor and very high yields have earned it worldwide attention. Tests have shown an astounding average of 87 fruits picked per plant. 1-2 ounces in weight.
  • Tiny Tim – 12″ dwarf tomato plant yields 3/4″ cherry tomatoes. It’s the perfect tomato to grow pots any time of the year, even inside the house.

One of the best sources for winter tomato seeds is TomatoFest.

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