Choosing Tomato Varieties to Plant in Alameda

Above, the fruity flavor of Rose de Berne tomatoes like these make them favorites for sandwiches.
Photos & story by Marla Koss

Choosing Tomato Varieties to Plant in Alameda

As 2020 marked a resurgence in gardening, let 2021 be the year for upping one’s game. Now is an ideal time to think about what to plant in this year’s vegetable garden. First on the list: tomatoes! Spending a little time reading up on tomato varieties in seed catalogs, on gardening blogs or vendor websites can be enormously informative.

One of the best places to start is with the Kassenhoff Growers, who specialize in less-common tomato varieties. As of the time of publication, the following link shows Kassenhoff’s 2020 varieties, the most current available when the Sun went to press. These should be used strictly as an examples as their 2021 offerings may differ

One of the most useful and comprehensive listings of tomato varieties can be found at Reimer Seeds: aspx. The central tomato page has an impressive number of categories, with tomatoes arranged alphabetically or by traits and characteristics. Tomato varieties can be:

• Heirloom, open-pollinated, or F1 hybrid
• Early-, mid- or late-season (often indicated as “days to maturity”)
• Indeterminate or determinate
• Disease-resistant to certain pathogens (bacterial wilts, viruses, or nematodes)

Experienced seed-savers go for heirloom or open-pollinated (O.P.) varieties, since they have seeds that will grow the next generation of plants true-to-type. As to the confusion between what is heirloom and what is open-pollinated, heirlooms are open-pollinated vari¬eties that have a history stretching back before the mid-20th century.

“Cherokee Purple” is a good example of an heirloom; it dates back to 1890 in rural Tennessee. Tomatoes labeled open-pollinated but lacking “heirloom” credentials are later varieties and basically heirlooms-in-waiting. A perfect example is “Cherokee Chocolate,” a brown-colored sport of “Cherokee Purple” developed by tomato breeder Craig LeHoullier in 1995.

F1 hybrid tomatoes, developed for vigor and disease resistance, began showing up in nurseries in the 1950s. Like the mule, they are crossbred and carry characteristics from both parents; their seed will not come true to type when planted. The F1 designation means that they are one generation removed from the parents. For the perfect example of an F1 hybrid tomato, look no further than the much-loved and ultra-dependable “Sungold” F1 cherry, developed by Japanese breeder Tokita Seed circa 1992.

All tomatoes are classified by the time of season in which they begin to ripen. Usually the term “Days” or “Days to maturity” is used, along with a number that stands for the length of time between setting the plant in the garden and the first ripe tomato.

Early-season tomatoes range from 43 to 74 days. Examples that would do well in Alameda include “Anna Russian” (one of the very few oxheart tomatoes to ripen so early); “Carmello F1,” “Early Girl F1,” “Eva Purple Ball,” “Gold Dust,” “Green Berkeley Tie Dye,” “Jetsetter F1,” “Jolly F1,” “Juliet F1,” “Legend,” “Lemon Boy F1,” “Mountain Magic F1,” “Pink Berkeley Tie Dye,” “Stupice,” and “Sungold F1.”

Mid-season varieties ripen within 75 to 85 days. Great midseason types to plant include “Amish Paste,” “Arkansas Traveler,” “Aunt Ruby’s German Green” and “Better Boy F1” among many others.

Late tomatoes ripen around 85 to 90-plus days and ultra-patient souls will insist they are worth the wait, but in very foggy summers they may do poorly. Here are many of the largest tomatoes, including most of the oxheart varieties with their silky, meaty flesh and few seeds.

“Hawaiian Pineapple” tomato is a hefty prize listed as 93 days, about the same length of time that it would take to ripen a crop of watermelons. Other notable late-season varieties include “Amana Orange,” “Bull’s Heart,” “Copia,” “Mortgage Lifter,” “Orange Russian 117,” “Purple Calabash,” and “Red Zebra.”

Growth habit is another factor to consider when planning the garden. A tomato plant that will grow and fruit (and possibly sprawl) until winter arrives is “Indeterminate.” “Determinate” types tend to stay compact and fruit more or less in a short space of time, within 4 to 6 weeks. Most paste tomatoes are determinate (which is handy for harvesting the crop all at once to make tomato sauce), but so are many slicers, cherry, or salad tomatoes. For the most part, determinate tomatoes also take well to container growing.

With a little preparation and research, anyone can have a tomato garden that meets their needs.

Marla Koss is a member of Alameda Backyard Growers.

Alameda Backyard Growers is dedicated to teaching our neighbors how to grow food. During this difficult time, our education program has moved online. Join the mailing list at to receive timely gardening information.

Right, As deeply colored inside as out, these Black Prince tomatoes are favored for their rich, sweet flavor and juiciness.