CORVALLIS, Ore. – As you pore over seed catalogs in these cold winter months, you'll likely include tomatoes in your vegetable garden dreams.
Oregon State University's vegetable breeding program has developed several varieties over the past 40 years that are now mainstays in many Pacific Northwest gardens. Perhaps you know of Indigo Rose, the novelty purple tomato that OSU debuted in 2012. But did you know about the other varieties that the program has created?
"In the past, the whole idea behind the breeding program has been to breed seedless types that are adapted to the cooler springs we have in Oregon and tomatoes with determinate growth so that they bloom earlier and set fruit under cooler conditions," said Jim Myers, OSU's vegetable breeder.
Under Myers's leadership, the program has focused on two areas in recent years – developing varieties with late blight resistance and increasing phytonutrient potential.
"We try to build on the material previously developed in the vegetable breeding program," Myers said.
Myers suggested the following OSU varieties, many of which were developed by his predecessor, Jim Baggett.
- Legend: A tomato that produces large fruit that is good to eat straight off the vine. Resistant to some forms of late blight. Ripens 60-65 days after transplanting. You can get a larger-sized, earlier-ripening fruit by growing them first from seeds in gallon-size pots then transplanting them, Myers said.
- Gold Nugget: Among the first to ripen, this prolific variety grows cherry tomatoes with a deep yellow color and mild, juicy flavor. Ripens in 60 days.
- Oroma: This tomato makes good tomato sauce and paste. Early to mature; average ripening time of 70 days. Prolific after ripening. Fruit is meaty and thick-walled.
- Oregon Spring: Ripens in 60-70 days. Slicing variety that can be eaten fresh in salads or straight from the vine. It will produce high, early yields of silver-dollar-sized juicy tomatoes.
- Oregon Star: Ripens in 80 days. An early-maturing, red paste-type tomato. Large, seedless fruit. Good for fresh eating and for canning.
- Santiam: Ripens in 65-75 days. Suited for salads and fresh eating; good, tart flavor.
- Siletz: Ripens in 70-75 days. Reliable tomato with good flavor; ideal for eating fresh from the vine. Not resistant to late blight.
- Indigo Rose: Ripens about 80-90 days after transplanting. First of a new class of tomato that is high in antioxidants. Its purple color comes from the anthocyanin pigment in its fruit. This open-pollinated variety is semi-determinate – or larger than a determinate type but smaller than indeterminate types – and a prolific producer. Get the best flavor by picking the tomato at its ripest; it will turn a muddy brown, dull purple color in September when ripe.
Find these tomatoes in the seed catalogs from Territorial Seed Co., Victory Seed Co., Ed Hume Seeds, Johnny's Selected Seeds and Nichols Garden Nursery.
Except for Indigo Rose, these tomatoes are determinate types, meaning that they are bushy in form and have fruit that sets on the bud at the tip of the stem, Myers said. They continue growth from side branches. All tomatoes from determinate type plants ripen in a concentrated period of time. Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, will grow vigorously to heights of up to 12 feet and produce fruit until frost kills them.
If you're overwhelmed by all the tomato choices and only have limited space, Myers has some advice.
"Find a few tomato varieties that work really well for you and use them as standbys, but reserve some space every year for experimental types that you want to try," said Myers, the Baggett-Frazier Professor of Vegetable Breeding in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.