Tomatoes in the Desert

mojave_patti(8b/Sunset 11)July 27, 2012

The past two years I've experimented with trying to grow tomatoes in a raised bed.

Last year, I had a wierd freeze in late April that took out my first plants. Then the replacements were a total bust because of tomato hornworm. They ate my three big plants away when I was on vacation in July. I think I got 12 edible tomatoes (8 of those grape tomatoes) for the whole season.

I bought three 4-inch pot tomato plants from Lowes this year (shaking my head now-I should know better).

Better Boy (indeterminant)

Health Kick (determinant paste tomato)

Pineapple heirloom (indeterminant)

The indeterminants are making lots of tomatoes, but EVERY SINGLE ONE cracks before there is the slightest amount of pink on them. I pick and bring them in once there is some pink. They taste fine when you cut the cracks off (just a few have had mold--they go right into the compost).

I'm starting the plans for next year. Can anyone recommend heirloom salad and paste tomatoes that

1) can take heat

2) can take DRY-DRY-DRY (humidity is NOT a problem)

3) basically, won't crack in the Mojave Desert

I realize tomato husbandry can fill an entire website, so if you could just talk varieties, I'd appreciate it. Bonus points if you can recommend a vendor who ships them as live plants (I usually have a black thumb starting seeds indoors, but I'll try again.)


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1 - drip irrigation and heavy mulch for uniform moisture

2 - afternoon shade

3 - royal chico reportedly takes heat and matt's wild cherry is taking over my yard. Matt's is a tiny cherry tomato, grows in small clusters, sets fruit and ripens almost all year.

Most "heirlooms" are from moister, cooler climates and probably can't tolerate the heat.

If you want to experiment, find some roma tomatoes from mexico this summer and save the seeds. They aren't the true roma variety, they are a paste tomato developed to tolerate the heat of the sonoran coast.

Your other alternative is to grow the extreme short-season tomatoes developed for canada so you can get a crop in spring and fall, skipping the summer heat.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 2:01PM
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mojave_patti(8b/Sunset 11)

Thanks. I have them on drip irrigation, on the east side of the house (afternoon shade). I'll try mulching some more.
I did a little research, I think I'm going to try Sioux tomatoes.
I might try a cherry tomato (I'll look for Matt's wild cherry), but I use mine mostly for cooking.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2012 at 11:50AM
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I am growing heirloom tomatoes for the first time in the desert this year (moved from Philly to Albuquerque). My soil is not where it needs to be yet and I have had a lot of problems with several of my plants. Oddly I've had some foliage disease despite the single digit humidity. Some heirlooms are more susceptible than others. I have also experienced terrible blossom end rot, something that has started to correct itself, but most of my first flush of fruit was marred by this problem. I have even moisture and mulch, so I am not sure what the problem is. Another big problem was blossom drop, which occurs in high heat. I've probably lost 50% or more of my blossoms on most of the plants. I am also losing blossoms on my cucumber, bean, melon and squash plants. One of my tomato plant's leaves appear to be just burning up in the sun - the edges of the leaves are turning brown and crisp and they are rolling up as it to protect themselves. I think shade is really critical, especially for healthy growth and good pollination. I have one plant receiving half a day shade under a fruit tree and it is by far my healthiest plant, with the most fruit. I will save seed from this plant. The variety is Druzba - from Eastern Europe and it's easy to find as seed, possibly as plant starts. The other variety that is doing relatively well in full sun is Cherokee Purple, which is a U.S. heirloom from the hot plains region. I find it to be one of the finest tasting tomatoes I've ever grown. For past tomatoes, I grow San Marzano, from Italy. They are also doing well in my dry climate. Their flavor is bland until you cook them, transforming them into a luscious, complex sauce. Next year my soil will be better and I will have shade structures in place. Good luck.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2012 at 5:46PM
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One of the best I've found for desert growing is Punta Banda, originally from Baja California. Medium size fruit, great taste. As far as I know, not commercially available as plants, but J.L. Hudson sells seed. I save my own seed and have noticed that over the years the tomatoes are getting larger and larger even though they're grown in an isolated area where hybridizing shouldn't be a problem.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2012 at 4:13AM
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