One of the great pleasures of vegetable gardening is finding new and unusual varieties to grow and tantalize our taste buds.  Heirloom tomatoes have surged in popularity in the past several years.  Tomato enthusiasts are finding bounties of bright rainbow colored, sugar sweet flavored tomatoes that are harvested from their gardens with pride and consumed selfishly. This enthusiasm is evident at your local retail garden center during the spring where many serious tomato enthusiasts mob the tables for their favorite tomato variety.

Until recently our tomato season would finish at the first signs of frost. But, what if we could prolong the season and have plants that would bring us a late harvest of fruit in what we would normally consider the off season?

After several years of trialing many tomato varieties, we found it possible to grow tomatoes in the “off season.” After the completion of the trial, we chose the varieties that we felt would produce well on the West coast.

These Cool Season Varieties were selected for their adaptation to cooler temperatures, less daylight hours and higher humid climates.

You will need to follow a slightly different set of rules when planting these varieties; it is well worth the effort to have tomatoes when the only tomatoes offered are the tasteless fruit you would find at the grocery store.

The rules are simple.  To have a successful crop, we recommend planting these varieties mid-July through the end of October. It seems strange that these off season varieties would be planted so early and in such warmer temperatures, but getting your plants started in mid-summer is important. The secret is to utilize the heat of the summer to warm the soil. This in turn develops  a mature root system with a larger study branching system.  When the cooler temperatures arrive, the plant will be able to withstand the cold and produce fruit.

In most cases, if the temperatures fall into the forty degree range, these plants will survive the cold.  If you live in an area that falls below forty, use your tomato cage from spring as a shelter and cover the cage with a breathable fabric or wrap the cage with clear plastic sandwich wrap.  Leave a six inch gap at the bottom and top of the cage to allow for some air circulation and put a piece of cardboard over the top of the cage to prevent cold air from traveling down inside the cage from the open top.  As long as foliage does not have direct contact with the frost, it will survive.

As an advocate for organic gardening, I prepare my soil with an organic planting mix, (Eden Valley Potting Soil is my favorite) add earthworm castings, and an organic fertilizer (Bio-Sol)

Seaweed Extract or Liquid Kelp used as a foliar spray can increase plants resistance to colder air as well as using a compost tea. Another overlooked product that helps increase the plants ability to thrive is adding Humic Acid or decomposed humus. (John and Bob’s Optimize)

In an experiment we conducted several years ago, we found that using fertilizers with Humic Acid help prevent our test plant from frost damage. Humic Acid stimulated the plants ability to create a larger canopy of foliage which translates to the amount of sugars it would produce.  These sugars in the vascular system act like anti-freeze as they do in your automobile’s engine and protects the foliage from frost damage.  Our trials have proven unprotected cold temperature survivability to 36 degrees.

Synthetic fertilizers have proven to cause death to cool season tomatoes as the forced growth causes inferior cell development that cannot withstand temperatures below 40.

Water as necessary. Tomato plants still need as much water in the cooler season as they need in the summer.  The only constant that changes is the humidity level and the rate of evaporation. I prefer a deep watering every 5 to 7 days in pots and 7 to 10 days in your garden beds.  Remember that rain counts as a watering.  (Rain? Whatever that is?)

Staking is not a real issue here.  Most to the plants are determinates and only grow to 3 feet tall.  A short stake is enough just to hold the plant up.

This year Roger’s Gardens will be carrying 10 cool season tomato varieties specially selected by Steve Goto for their ability to perform in our local coastal climate.

Cool Season Tomato List for 2016

Galina’s Cherry 59 Days. Indeterminate. Siberian, Arguably our most flavorful tomato. Galina was chosen one of the 10 best early tomatoes by Organic Gardening and won the Premium Gold award at the Latah County Fair. High yields of round yellow 1” cherry tomatoes from each vigorous plant.

Gen State 58 Days. Determinate Siberian. University of Idaho. A cross between subarctic and a larger, beefsteak tomato. Compact, bush-type growth. Excellent for containers and patio gardens! Produces small, 2 oz. Red fruit.

Ispolin 70 Days. Indeterminate Siberia, Truly a giant from the Siberian need to outdo the neighbor for largest tomato. Spectacular huge round pink 1-2 lb. fruits can be expected from vines that reach 7′.

Olga’s Yellow Chicken Indeterminate, 75 days Siberia. Bright yellow-orange, perfect egg-shaped fruit, rather large 5-6 oz. tomatoes on compact, 3-4′ tall plants. Nice acid/sweet balance.

Peasant Determinate 67 Days. Siberia. Classic roma-shaped tomatoes from each compact plant. 3-4 oz. fruits with thick walls yet fresh juicy flavor. Also makes good sauce.

Nepal Indeterminate 78 Days. Nepal Enormous beefsteak with intense, rich, tomato flavor. Original strain from Himalayan Mountains in Nepal! Bright-red, smooth 10-12 oz. fruits.

Siletz Determinate 68 Days. Dr. James Bagett developed this improved Oregon Spring with a more vigorous plant and earlier, blemish-free red fruit. Resistant to V, F1 and cracking. Size to 8 oz.

Silvery Fir Tree Compact Determinate 58 days. Siberian. An exceptional heirloom that ripens early and produces heavy crops on incomparably beautiful plants. Fire engine red fruit average 2-3 inches across with a slightly flattened shape and a very pleasant, tangy taste. The compact, determinate plants have delicate, ferny foliage and make elegant container specimens.

Stupice Indeterminate 52 Days. Eastern Europe. Our earliest tomato. Produces tasty, 3-4 oz., red-orange fruits. First in earliness and first in flavor at the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners tomato trials.

Sub Artic Plenty Determinate 62 Days. Alaska. Cold-tolerant and early-ripening. Always a favorite of gardeners north of the 45th parallel! Compact, extremely prolific plant produces numerous clusters of red, tasty, 2 oz. fruits.