Question from Elsie:
What are the tomato plants that grow best in frost-free zones of southern Calif.? Is Manitoba a good one? Other winter types to ask for at a nursery?
Answer from Pat:
When making a list of tomatoes for planting now and growing through fall, or even through winter, the first thing that comes to mind is any chance seedling of common cherry tomato. I have known gardeners who grew almost legendary vines, and the differences between them depends on luck. The best ones are non-determinate vines. As long as they keep growing and you pick the fruit they can stay alive, or at least some of them do. The most extraordinary example of a winter tomato I ever saw was growing in a run-down neighborhood in southeast San Diego. The house was on a hill and faced southeast. Back in the days when I was on regularly scheduled TV a viewer whose name was Betty wrote to me and begged me to come and see it. I did. It was nothing we could have taped for a TV show as the viewer hoped, but it was an experience for me just to see it. The human eye can see things that the TV camera cannot, at least not the bulky, heavy cameras we had then.
Betty said it was simply a chance seedling that had sprung up out of the ground next to their patio overhang. She tied it up onto the post. It grew up to the roof and covered the overhang. The trunk got thick and hard, almost like a green tree. The soil didn’t look particularly good but it was likely deep, old agricultural soil. The roots must have gone down very deep and maybe there was a septic tank or seepage of some kind providing underground water. I saw this tomato plant in spring or early summer and Betty said by then it had been growing over a year and had steadily born fruit since the year prior. It looked ratty but still full of life. It was obviously perennial. I suggested Betty alert a seed company to her immense tomato plant, and gave her some phone numbers but she never did or if she did I never heard more.
I can’t guarantee you will get that kind of results from other “winter tomatoes”, but the indeterminate varieties that never stop growing will give you the longest harvests. Determinate varieties may give you more fruit all at once. Begin the list with any early tomato. First on the list are any early varieties, the best of which is “Early Girl Improved VFNT’. Secondly i would try the heirlooms. Please see the following link for the answer I gave another reader on this subject: http://patwelsh.com/wpmu/blog/garden-q-a/when-to-plant-tomatoes-for-fallearly-winter-harvest/ And sure if you have heard of Manitoba, try it. I have heard it’s good also but you’ll never know without trying it yourself. Give us some feedback next year on your successes and failures.