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Old October 21, 2011   #1
BW_AustinTX
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Default Best tomato types (large and small) for Central Texas? - Austin

Hi all,

Well... as many of you know and experienced, this past summer was ABSOLUTELY brutal for many of us in Texas and the plains. I have heavy clay soil, and the ground in my yard has fissures and is hard as brick... even with the one (and only one in like 4 months!) rain we had last week. I was excited early spring, then when my seedlings vaporized into dust.. I got depressed.. then more depressed... and so on.

HOWEVER.. I would like to try to regroup.. and already am trying to line up for next year. I really could use advice as to...

1) What type of heirlooms would be my best bets?
2) Are Raybo's Earthtainers the way to go or in the ground? I like the idea of saving H20
3) When should I plant my seeds to start for Central Texas?
4) I like the idea of trying to Wintersow the seeds. Is this viable for Austin?

Well... as a newbie I am sure I will have more questions, but this is all for now.

Thank you for commiserating with my drought induced misery, and for your words of advice and wisdom.

Last edited by BW_AustinTX; October 21, 2011 at 11:20 AM.
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Old October 21, 2011   #2
feldon30
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I would also not draw any conclusions from this year's summer. It was absolutely absurd to have months and months of 100's and no rain. Everything about this year was totally atypical.

I think what tomato varieties you grow will depend on how many plants you are going to grow, how much space you have, etc. I've always believed you want to grow a certain amount of "sure thing" plants and then the rest can be a bit more experimental. I grow a mixture of about 70% heirlooms and 30% hybrids. Here are a few:

Gregori's Altai - heirloom - pink early beefsteak (20+ fruits per plant)
Jet Star - 1948 hybrid - medium red-orange tomato (30+ fruits per plant)
Momotaro - Japanese hybrid - very sweet medium pink tomato
Cherokee Purple - heirloom -- purplish pink beefsteak
Earl's Faux - heirloom - large pink beefsteak

Sungold - hybrid - orange cherry
Sweet Quartz - hybrid - pinkish red cherry
Purple Haze - stabilized hybrid - purple cherry/saladette


To pick out which varieties to grow, I would look for posts by Suze and others from Austin who are most familiar with the Austin area. Given the right circumstances, most tomato varieties can do well there, if large healthy transplants are planted early enough. You might also drop into Bloomer's nursery near Elgin. It's one of the best nurseries I've been to and they have a tremendous selection of tomato plants each year as well as organic fertilizers, soil amendments, etc. It's really a one-stop-shop and no doubt they will know what tomato varieties do well.

In Austin, Suze has typically started seeds January 8-15th but this is under ideal conditions (soilless seed starting mix, fluorescent starting lights, proper fertilization, hardening off, etc.). To be safe you could start January 1st. Plants go in the ground the 2nd or 3rd week of March depending on overnight temperature predictions. You cannot wait until all risk of frost is gone (mid-April) or you will get few if any tomatoes.

I personally grow in raised beds because they only need watering every 2-3 days. Raybo's Earthtainers would need daily watering and possibly twice-daily watering in June and July.

The problem with winter sowing is that the timing is up to nature. However being even a week late on planting tomatoes in Austin can mean the difference between a table full of tomatoes and just a few basketfuls. It's a myth that we have a long growing season in Central and S.E. Texas. We actually have an extremely short growing season analogous to parts of Canada, just hotter.

Suze and I have written many articles about growing tomatoes in Central and S.E. Texas. We're not experts by any stretch, but hopefully you find some interesting info. http://www.settfest.com/
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Old October 21, 2011   #3
Dewayne mater
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Feldon is right on in all of his advice. I had gone to 100% heirloom varieties for about 3 years, but this fall I added back a hybrid Big Beef, thinking it might survive the devil's crotch heat of this summer when I planted them in August. They did. Right now they are covered in tomatoes from a few that are full sized and I hope will color up in a couple of weeks, down to newbies. They are crazy productive. We'll see if they do what is much harder and maintain good taste and texture as we get less and less hours of sunlight and colder and colder night temps. I will also add sungold to his list which I grew for the first time this year. (It's probably also a hybrid but I'm not sure). This delicious (to me) cherry type was a champion producer for me up until about August even in this year's heat, when I thought it died. Wrong! New branches have appeared and it has dozens of cherry toms appearing once again. Love it!

I am a big supporter of Raybo's earth tainers. Two growing seasons of foundation repairs took away my suburban beds, as they were all up against the house. I finally have my beds back this fall, but, I will continue to use earthainers as well as soil going forward. In short, they are water misers, they help minimize disease as they never get water on their leaves, your plants grow more quickly in the spring as the above ground soiless mix is MUCH quicker to heat up in the sun than the ground is, they continue to produce longer into the summer (though I'm not sure why they would, they just have for me) and if you get obsessive about it (aren't we all!) you can use a roller to move your tainers into a garage over night if you get a cold snap early in the fall and thereby extend your fall season. Last year we had some November freezes overnight - I moved them into the garage - then it warmed up for another 2-3 weeks prior to the next freeze. I move them back outside and got many more tomatoes to ripen before we hit a streak of really cold weather, then I put them in the garage and lived another couple of weeks before lack of light, etc. did them in. Many, many advantages to using E.T.s, but those are some major ones I've experienced. Good luck and hope and pray for rain and less scorching summers!

Dewayne Mater.
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Old October 21, 2011   #4
tedln
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I think the varieties mentioned so far are very good for your area. I'm growing in North Texas (north of Dallas). I've also been intrigued for many years with the concept of "winter sowing" or direct sowing tomato seed. I even grew some plants from seed planted direct in the soil this past spring. It was an attempt to fill some spaces when the seedlings intended for the spaces were killed in a frost.

I think the direct seeded plants work well because they develop a tap root which extends very deep. Transplants develop more of a root ball without much of a tap root. Growing in the weather extremes of Texas requires large plants that bloom and set fruit before the summer heat arrives. Direct seeded plants don't typically develop early enough to set fruit well. I've found seedlings grown under lights or plants bought from a nursery are most reliable for heavy production. I will be starting my seeds under lights around Christmas with plant out in the first week of March. I would be most happy if the seedlings already have some bloom buds when I plant them out. Direct seeded plants will have just begun germinating in early March and will never catch up with the transplants before the heat arrives.

If we experience a more normal summer with highs in the mid nineties, both the transplants and direct seeded plants will do well with the direct seeded plants producing a little later in the summer.

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Old October 24, 2011   #5
hornstrider
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BW_AustinTX ..........I am in Central Texas (Hutto, Tx) not far from you with the same black gumbo soil. I raised all of my beds three years ago, and it made all of the difference. I mixed lots of compost, and Hill Country garden soil from The Natural Gardener off of Old Bee Caves Road in with my rich black gumbo. This year was the best year I have ever had as far as production, and taste . I have much success with Cherokee Purple, Rutgers, Big Beef, Early Girl Bush, Sungold, and Black Krim. I plant my spring tomato plants in late Feb, or early March. Getting your plants in early makes all of the difference in my opinion. I do a few other things to my soil when I plant my seedlings such as adding alfalfa pellets, green sand ect. Here a few pics of my harvest this year.http://legionofboomshirts.com/
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Old October 27, 2011   #6
BW_AustinTX
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Thanks all for taking the time to write and for your advice. Very helpful!!
I will keep reading and learning till next season, and hoping it is no NEAR as hot!
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Old October 31, 2011   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hornstrider View Post
My mouth is watering at those giant Cherokee Purples.
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Old October 31, 2011   #8
Direct Sunlight
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I'm about 150 miles north of Austin. I started my seeds on January 30 here. It proved to be too late. I couldn't find a plow to borrow and finally had to rent one, late April. I got a handful of tomatoes and then they shut down for the season. I've started to pick some lately, and have had enough for recipes and snacks, not enough to freeze any yet.
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Old October 31, 2011   #9
Worth1
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I cant think of a better thing to do on Christmas eve than to start tomato seeds
It all depends on where you live in austin as to when you plant out.
I live in Bastrop and when the frost hit West Austin I get escape by the skin of my teeth.

Suze lives about 14 miles north of me and she will get a little colder than I do.

Soil types in the Austin area are varied from dark soil mixed with limestone red clay road base soil, solid rock, sandy loam, a dark rich black soil in the central part of Austin in the Hyde park area and along the river.
The black soil is mistaken for clay many times but if you can break it up it grows crops really well.

As for tomatoes Feldon hit it right on but I will try to add one or two.

As he said we have a short growing season here so try to plant ones that fit this category.

Aurora is a winner here and will be one of the first to ripen.
Don't forget Break 'O' Day.
Red rocket did great.
Black Cherry.
Jubilee, an old standard orange tomato I grew up with.
Black Plumb and Black Pear are good.
When the heat kicks in hard and you just have to have a tomato you cant go wrong with the small cherries and grape tomatoes.

Wild cherry will put out in real high heat, I have had it set fruit in 100 degree weather.

Just remember if you have a plant that sets fruit them you are golden you just wont get any more fruit set after it gets hot.

Costoluto Genovese is a small ruffled red tomato that I like the flavor is not up to par with some but my friends go wild over it.

I try to set out 12 to 18 inch plants in late Feb or early March, it depends on the red bud blooms.
If there is a frost or freeze warning I stack hay up around and on top of the plants. (it works)

I hope this helped.

Worth
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Old October 31, 2011   #10
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I use piles of Oak leaves instead of hay to protect my plants from a late frost. I have piles of leaves everywhere in the spring. I use a power leaf blower to blow them away after the frost danger has passed. I would like to use hay or straw sometimes, but I'm afraid of the weed and grass seed normally found in hay.

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Old November 1, 2011   #11
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This is a great discussion. What is the minimum temperature to set out your plants then? I read somewhere it's about 55, but then it won't work as the following temperature data suggests, too short of a growing season before it gets too hot. Could anyone make a suggestion as when to start the seedlings and when to plant them out?
I'm doing this research for my mom. She lives in Shandong Prov in China, where average temperature is like this:
March 1- 15, high 56 low 35 Mar 16-30, high 63 low 41
Apr 1-15, high 69 low 47 Apr 15-30 high 74 low 52
May: first week:54 (low)-76(high) ; 2nd week: 57-79 3rd week 59-81 4th week 62-84
June: 1st week 64-86 2nd week:67-88 3rd week 68-89 4th week 71-89
July: 1st week 72-89 2nd week 73-89 3rd week 73-89 4th week73-89
August: 72-90 for the month
Sept 1-15 71-87
I think the past summer was hotter than the above data indicates.
Any suggestions ? Thanks.
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Old November 1, 2011   #12
feldon30
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NewWestGardener,

Those temperatures sound very different from what some of us face in S.E. and Central Texas. We typically plant March 8th, fruitset almost ceases mid-May, and the last of the tomatoes drag in through July. That's a 120 day season. In Houston, I had closer to a 95-100 day season.

With the temps you've provided above, I'd be planting early May and harvesting through the end of October. That's more like a 140-160 day season. The temperatures you've listed seem much more moderate and suggest a longer growing season with less scheduling pressure to "hit the bull's eye" as it were.

Again this is just based on the numbers you've provided and may not include microclimates and any number of other parameters including wind and water.
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Old November 2, 2011   #13
dice
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[Shandong Province, China]
She could probably plant any time in April. If the weather is cool, they
will start off slow, but those temperatures are not low enough to stunt
plants. If the weather is especially warm one year, they will take off
right away, and they should be growing well in May regardless.

Tell her to have backup seedlings, so that she can replant in case of
unpleastant surprises in early spring. Cultivating some grass or clover
clippings into the top 6 inches of the soil a couple of weeks before
planting will help the soil warm up (heat of decomposition).
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Old November 2, 2011   #14
BW_AustinTX
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Thanks again all. Very helpful.
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Old November 2, 2011   #15
NewWestGardener
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Thanks for the advice everyone. I found the temperature chart on the internet, but I suspect the actual temperatures to be way higher than that. She had lots of blossoms drops in early summer except for a few cherries, which started to get going again in September, but nothing in between, and no real big ones to harvest.
Planting out in April with a backup plan may be the way to go. I'll try to find her seed for some varieties Feldon suggested. This has been very helpful.
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