Growing tomatoes in Florida can be a challenge if you do not have the right information. Soil composition, pH, site location and timing are all essential elements. August and September are good months for starting fall tomato seed in central Florida. However, choosing the right variety is very important. There are literally hundreds of tomato varieties available. So how do you know which one is the best for you?
Some people like the idea of growing heirloom tomatoes. Heirlooms are older varieties that breed true generation after generation, and have been grown for decades. You can harvest and save the seed for the next crop. For the backyard gardener, these may be a good choice. But are they the best choice? They may taste good, but are not necessarily resistant to disease. Compare them to hybrid varieties.
Hybrids are plants that have been crossbred to combine the best qualities of the parent plants. Seed saved from hybrids will not necessarily result in the same plant for the next generation; but hybrids are developed for strong stems, size, flavor and, equally important, disease resistance. Resistance to disease has the added benefit of increasing the chances that the plant will reach its full potential and produce a good harvest.
When you pick up a packet of seed, look at the codes listed on the label. N indicates resistance to nematodes, tiny unsegmented roundworms that attack the roots of their host plants. They are not the same as earthworms, which are beneficial. F stands for resistance to Fusarium Wilt, a fungus that can survive in the soil until it is absorbed by the plant. Irrigation or fertilizer does not alleviate the wilt, because the fungus prevents the vascular system from distributing water through the plant. V is an indication of resistance to Verticillium, a fungus similar to Fusarium. A variety that has the code VFN on the label is more suited to growing conditions in Florida than seed packets without that designation.
Resistance to disease or pests is not the same as immunity. Timing, crop rotation or planting in a fresh soil mix in containers also reduces the opportunity for diseases or soil-borne pests to adversely affect your plants. Irrigate the root zone early in the day rather than in the evening. Allow the soil to dry out in between irrigation events. Inspect your plants often for signs of fungus or pest insect infestation. Prevent a small problem from becoming a big one.
For more information about growing tomatoes or vegetables in Florida, contact UF IFAS Extension Hernando County at 16110 Aviation Loop Drive, Brookville 34604 (in the airport industrial park next to the US Post Office). Telephone: 352-754-4433. Office hours are 8 to 5 Monday thru Friday. Master Gardeners are also available to answer questions at the Spring Hill Lowe’s from 10 to 2 on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month. For great prices on plants and gardening advice, visit the Master Gardener nursery at 19490 Oliver Street, Brooksville 34601 (behind the county fairgrounds), any Wednesday or Saturday from 9 to noon (weather permitting). UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County provides solutions for your life. Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.