Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

317 The 2024 Tomato Preview Show!

March 15, 2024 Fred Hoffman Season 5 Episode 19
317 The 2024 Tomato Preview Show!
Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
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Garden Basics with Farmer Fred
317 The 2024 Tomato Preview Show!
Mar 15, 2024 Season 5 Episode 19
Fred Hoffman

It’s time for the annual Garden Basics Tomato preview show! Once again, you’re invited to easedrop on a conversation between two real tomatoheads, myself and Don Shor, proprietor of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, California.

We recap our tomato successes and failures of 2023, and talk about what we will be planting in 2024, featuring the tried and true tomato varieties, along with several newcomers, more than two dozen varieties that we pass judgment on and will attempt to grow. Or not grow. 

Don also has tips for making your tomato growing efforts in 2024 a rousing success…as long as the weather cooperates.

Previous episodes, show notes, links, product information, and transcripts at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout.

Pictured:  The Tomato Staircase at a previous National Heirloom Exposition

Subscribe to the free, Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter
Smart Pots
Dave Wilson Nursery

Prominent tomato varieties mentioned in today’s podcast. More info about these varieties can be found in the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter.

Chef’s Choice Orange
New Girl
Tough Boy
Blue Ribbon
Purple Boy
Bush Early Girl
Itz a Keeper
Super Fantastic
Jet Star
Principe Borghese
Riesetomate tomato
Barry’s Crazy Cherry
Sweet Carneros Pink
Pork Chop
Michael Pollan
Gardener’s Delight
Big Beef
4th of July
Sweet Million
Super Sauce
Orange Wellington
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
Purple Tomato (a GMO variety)
Sacramento  County Master Gardener’s Favorite Tomatoes (Facebook)

Got a garden question?
• Leave an audio question without making a phone call via Speakpipe, at
• Call or text us the question: 916-292-8964.
• Fill out the contact box at
• E-mail: 

All About Farmer Fred:
The website
The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Newsletter, Beyond the Basics
Farmer Fred website:
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Twitter/X: @farmerfred
Farmer Fred Garden Minute Videos on YouTube

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases from possible links mentioned here.

Thank you for listening, subscribing and commenting on the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast and the Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

It’s time for the annual Garden Basics Tomato preview show! Once again, you’re invited to easedrop on a conversation between two real tomatoheads, myself and Don Shor, proprietor of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, California.

We recap our tomato successes and failures of 2023, and talk about what we will be planting in 2024, featuring the tried and true tomato varieties, along with several newcomers, more than two dozen varieties that we pass judgment on and will attempt to grow. Or not grow. 

Don also has tips for making your tomato growing efforts in 2024 a rousing success…as long as the weather cooperates.

Previous episodes, show notes, links, product information, and transcripts at the home site for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred, Transcripts and episode chapters also available at Buzzsprout.

Pictured:  The Tomato Staircase at a previous National Heirloom Exposition

Subscribe to the free, Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter
Smart Pots
Dave Wilson Nursery

Prominent tomato varieties mentioned in today’s podcast. More info about these varieties can be found in the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter.

Chef’s Choice Orange
New Girl
Tough Boy
Blue Ribbon
Purple Boy
Bush Early Girl
Itz a Keeper
Super Fantastic
Jet Star
Principe Borghese
Riesetomate tomato
Barry’s Crazy Cherry
Sweet Carneros Pink
Pork Chop
Michael Pollan
Gardener’s Delight
Big Beef
4th of July
Sweet Million
Super Sauce
Orange Wellington
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow
Purple Tomato (a GMO variety)
Sacramento  County Master Gardener’s Favorite Tomatoes (Facebook)

Got a garden question?
• Leave an audio question without making a phone call via Speakpipe, at
• Call or text us the question: 916-292-8964.
• Fill out the contact box at
• E-mail: 

All About Farmer Fred:
The website
The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred Newsletter, Beyond the Basics
Farmer Fred website:
The Farmer Fred Rant! Blog
Facebook:  "Get Growing with Farmer Fred"
Instagram: farmerfredhoffman
Twitter/X: @farmerfred
Farmer Fred Garden Minute Videos on YouTube

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases from possible links mentioned here.

Thank you for listening, subscribing and commenting on the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast and the Beyond the Garden Basics Newsletter.

Ep. 317 TRANSCRIPT Tomato Preview Show 2024


Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. It's made in the USA. Visit slash Fred for more information and a special discount, that's

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.


The signs of spring are everywhere here in suburban Purgatory: the sneezing and runny eyes are becoming more commonplace, thanks to the flying pollen from the blooming acacia trees. Skunks in search of a mate are prowling about at night (and the bathtub where the dogs got an emergency bath still smells like skunk). And the Hairy Bittercress weed is carpet bombing the yard with its explosive seed cases, hence one of its common names, popseed. But for me, the real sign of the beginning of spring? It’s time for the annual Garden Basics Tomato preview show! Once again, you’re invited to easedrop on a conversation between two real tomatoheads, myself and Don Shor, proprietor of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, California.

We recap our tomato successes and failures of 2023, and talk about what we will be planting in 2024, featuring the tried and true tomato varieties, along with several newcomers, more than two dozen varieties that we pass judgement on and will attempt to grow. Or not grow. Plus I recently asked the Get Growing with Farmer Fred facebook page readers what their favorite tomato varieties are, and they weren’t shy about answering. And we recap a tomato trial conducted at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center last summer by the Sacramento County Master Gardeners. So, we’ll be talking about some of those.

Don also has tips for making your tomato growing efforts in 2024 a rousing success…as long as the weather cooperates.

It’s all in Episode 317 of today’s Garden Basics - The 2024 Tomato Preview Show

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!



It may be tomato time where you live, but for most of America, we need to wait a while. But we can certainly think about tomatoes. And that's what we're doing with today's show. We're thinking about 2024 tomatoes. Which ones are you going to plant? What did you have success with last year? What new ones are you going to try or at least are new to you? To have a decent tomato conversation, it has to be two tomato heads jabbering. And I can't think of anybody else to bring on except Don Shor, owner of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, a true tomato head who usually plants, I think, last year Don, you had, what, 40 varieties? 


Yeah, that sounds about right. That's a lot more than I need. But, you know, you got to test them all. I'm a retailer. I got to make sure they're good. 




I tell myself that every year. 


All right, Well, let's do a quick recap of our 2023 tomato garden. And I know that for me, the big winner last year was Rugby, based on your endorsement of that tomato over the last couple of years. And Rugby is just a wonderful tomato. I had a lot of luck with it. I don't know how you describe it. Is it a Roma tomato? Is it a paste tomato? Is it a saladette tomato? It's bigger than your standard paste tomatoes, but it is meaty enough to use as a slicer in a sandwich. 


Yeah, it's a very solid tomato. So people who know Roma will be very familiar with this style. It's a very meaty tomato, which is a funny term we use for tomatoes. It is a big fruit. It's been that way every year I've grown it. It's been three or four years now, very consistent producer.  And yeah, it doesn't take very many of them to make a sauce. It's a very large fruit and very consistent, reliable producer. Rugby has quickly moved up into my top ten list from the first year that I grew it. And I recommend it highly. It is the one you'll either have to find the seed yourself or go to some little garden center where they start them for you.  But you still have time if you haven't started all your seeds yet to get that one going. Rugby has been outstanding. I can't think of a tomato that's moved so quickly into my top 20, and then into my top ten list. This particular one was originally from Bulgaria. One customer mentioned it to me then, so I ordered the seed. Now you can get the seed from your typical online vendors and it grows very, very well and a very good producer here. So yes,  you and I definitely agree on Rugby. 


Yeah, Rugby is a good one. I will be planting it again. Definitely my biggest failure in 2023. And it wasn't my fault at all. It was it was the gardener's delight Tomato, which is a slightly larger cherry tomato, but it's very prolific. It's usually the first to produce in late spring and the last to croak, usually in December. But the seeds that I planted, even though the package said Gardener's Delight, what came out was a run of the mill cherry tomato. To me, it smells like jalapenogate, only for tomatoes. 


Oh, it was. I mean, 2023 will definitely go down in the annals of tomato history for the seed mix ups.  I strongly recommend the Chef's Choice series. For example, none of my chef's choice that I happened to bring home from my own garden center came true from the label. My Chef's Choice Orange, which is an absolute top performer of mine. It was some red tomato. I don't know what it was. It was fine. If you needed a red tomato, it definitely was not what I expected. So there was a major mix up in the industry. It was at the seed distribution level was all I can figure and it really affected a lot of this. So Jalapeno definitely expanded to all the ingredients or salsa, including, I'm sorry to say, the tomatoes. So I still highly recommend the Chef's Choice series and I strongly recommend Chef's Choice Orange based on previous years. And let's hope they've got the logistics all worked out this coming year on that whole series of what, seven or eight of them now, they all produce well, they're all very large fruited. They're really the one that I find the most useful simply because it's a little firmer texture and more consistent. Is that Chef's Choice or orange? That's still in my top ten. Just got a demerit for last year. 


Chef's Choice. Several of the Chef's Choice. Tomatoes have been All-America selections winners as well. 


Yeah, they're introduced by a seed breeder here in the Sacramento Valley. And so that's pretty unusual. Honestly, most of the tomatoes you're looking at when you're going into nurseries and hardware stores are not haven't been bred in in a region like our Valley Heat. And this one has been and the whole series has been outstanding. So let's give them the you know, what does it sort of give them a mulligan for last year. 


Yeah. Jalapenogate refers to the big mix up in the world of peppers where people who thought they were buying jalapeno peppers actually ended up with sweet peppers. And unfortunately, the reverse also was true. There were sweet peppers for sale that turned out to be a little warmer than sweet. 


Yes, That's a disappointment for some people there. So it was it was an interesting problem in the whole industry. So we'll just kind of play on previous years recommendations for that one. Now, I have to say every year I have one plant that just grows incredibly robust compared to all the others. It's never the same one, of course, And and it produces really, really heavily. And this year for me, that was Juliet. Now I recommend Juliet very highly for a lot of reasons. I did a quick grid count estimate of, you know, just trying to figure out how many fruit my plant produce. It was something close to 400. Ooh, yeah, yeah. And they were still producing, you know, and I went out there at the end of the season, that's like beginning of November. I'm going out there to cut the vines down and get everything cleaned up for the fall and play a cover crops. And I walk up to this thing. I said, This is ridiculous. I walked into the house, I got a great big bowl and I picked another 100 fruit and made an entire another batch of sauce from them. Juliet has been very consistent since it was introduced. It's an All-America winner, I do believe, from about 20 years ago, maybe more than that at this point, everywhere it seems to yield. Well, it's an interesting hard to describe variety because it's small, elongated, kind of like a San Marzano very firm, you know, very solid, thin skin that just cooks down immediately. So you don't really even have to peel them at a very light seed count for me. So this one just cooks down into a sauce beautifully. But I know most other people are happy to throw their salads and use it as what they're now calling a salad type tomato. Juliet just continues to be an outstanding performer. It's one of those ones where if you're looking for just one tomato and so you want to kind of an all purpose and you know it's going to do well. Juliet is definitely in that category. 


One that you have recommended over the years. And I finally broke down and tried it and it was actually it was successful the second year I tried it. And that's another Don Shor rule about planting tomatoes. Give them three years, plant them for three years and see if you still like it. And Bodacious did quite well for me in 2023. It was the the last plant to give up, and I harvested the remaining green ones in November and I finally finished the green ones as they ripen slowly in the garage. I finished those off in late February. 


Yeah, it's been a very good performer. If you're looking for something in what we sometimes call the beefsteak category, which we can talk about separately, a large slicing one with good connective tissue that you could use in the sandwich. Bodacious is probably your best bet here in the Sacramento Valley. We need to mention, I mean, beef steak was a variety. It's now sort of a term for a type of tomato. But in general, what it refers to is one that you can slice. And that slice will hold together with enough connective tissue that you could use it just like that on a sandwich or something like that. Bodacious has great flavor all as well, has taken heat very well for me. Continues to be a good performer for me. 


Another one of your perennial favorites - and I've been planning it now for like three or four years - well, I finally ran out of the seed. I'm going have to get some fresh seed. The New Girl tomato.


Yes, New Girl has been out yielding Early Girl for me for the last two years. I do. I finally did them side by side to do a direct comparison to Early Girl. It really can't go wrong with it if you're a fan of Early Girl, by all means, keep planting it. But every now and then, another contender comes along for that throne. And New Girl is one of that category. And it has been a very good performer for me. People actually in an informal blind tasting liked the flavor a little better. Yeah, that could have just been that fruit was a little riper, who knows. But overall, Early Girl has been around since the 1970s. New Girl is giving it a run for its money and a lot of people want to try new ones. There's another one out there called Tough Boy. Some people are doing that one and have had very good results. Tough Boy is another one where they're trying for that same 4 to 6 ounce fruit size, nice round red tomato, good flavor, a good all-purpose tomato. That's another good one. But that New Girl has impressed me and it just might displace Early Girl from its throne.  


Okay. I imagine that you've already been besieged by customers who maybe they're smart enough to know not to plant tomatoes at this time, in March. Now they still want to secure probably one or two that did well for them last year. What are your customers wanting an encore from? 


Well, that one in particular, New Girl. Another I mentioned many times, Rugby, as well. We're definitely going to have available. There's one that I've been recommending and it's going to be a hard one to find unless the nursery start it themselves. It’s Blue Ribbon. The Blue Ribbon tomato came out a few years ago. It's been you know, it's hard to compete in the red tomato market. There's a lot of really good red tomatoes out there. But I have to say about this one, it doesn't crack, it doesn't split. It didn't get blossom and rot. The fruit is always 12 ounces or so, a good size all the way up to a pound. Sometimes it didn't get sunburned. It just performs really well. It's not just attractive. I mean, the Blue Ribbon refers to the fact it's a very, very good looking tomato. It also has really good flavor, and holds well on the vine. That's going to be it's been kind of a dark horse here, you might say. An they only got so many good red tomatoes out there to choose from.  I would recommend people try Blue Ribbon. If you're still looking for seed, you can find the seed out there. It's a very good one to consider. iI is an all purpose, really good red tomato. 


It sounds big. 

DON SHOR 10:24

It's a big ish. It's not a pound plus. So here's my big surprise from last year. Every year there's one variety that surprises me. Pineapple.


Pineapple. Well, an oldie but goodie. 

DON SHOR 10:36

Yeah, the old, old heirloom variety. I grow it every year, even though some years I only get six or seven fruit. But they tend to be very, very large. Wonderful flavor. The name refers to the rather tangy flavor. This year I got 14 very large fruit on the one plant, each of them about one and a half to two pounds. This is the kind of tomato where I'm walking out there in the morning going, Is this the night the squirrels discovered it? Is this the morning when the rats got there? Before I did this enormous, beautiful fruit and as I say, one and a half to two pounds apiece. I don't normally want people to count on high yields from heirloom tomatoes. And this is an old heirloom variety. It's been around for a long time. It gives me good results every year. This is kind of like Cherokee Purple two years ago, which was my top performing tomato. You know, I don't usually tell people heirlooms are going to be your highest yield, but the Pineapple really, really surprised me how much it produced. Great quality. I recommend if you have room for four or five tomatoes, try Pineapple is one of them. It would be a good heirloom for this area. 


And you're right, it's beautiful, but it's sort of a golden orange color. 

DON SHOR 11:40

Yeah, and red striations in the flesh. It slices great, it cooks great. It's just a really interesting variety. You know, we do recommend that people get a hybrid, get a cherry tomato, look for disease resistance, and then move on to the open pollinated ones, the heirloom varieties and see how they do for you. I don't want people to rush out and buy Brandywine. It just doesn't do well in the valley. Look for the heirlooms that are tried and true and this is one of them. 


How did Champion perform for you last year? 

DON SHOR 12:11

It was just fine, as usual. You know, I got a lot of fruit on it. It's a really good red tomato. And I have an interesting comment from a customer on Champion. He said, I didn't really like that. And it's kind of tart. And I thought, okay, well, it does color up before it's fully ripe. And this is true of a number of hybrid tomatoes. They are beautiful about a week to ten days before they're really fully ripe. So if you have that experience, you've had one of these new hybrids like Champion or Better Boy, and you're finding, Oh, I really didn't think It had the best flavor, experiment a little. Pick them, bring them in, set them on the counter in your kitchen for three or four or five days, squeeze them gently and if they start to give a little bit, they're actually really ripe at that point. And it might well be that you're just picking them a little before they're fully ripe because some of these hybrids were bred, in my opinion, for appearance as much as flavor. So that's something to consider, is that you might want to let it ripen a little more fully on the counter. Now, having said that, There's a whole group of tomatoes I'm getting pretty fed up with, and that is this purple, blue and black tomatoes, black beauty, blue, whatever. We're just finding some of them really, really don't soften. And the flavor is, in my opinion, rather astringent. And I don't know what it takes to get them to have good flavor. If someone out there has come up with a new hybrid purple or blue tomato, we'll talk about the GMO tomatoes in a moment. But they've come up with a good purple or blue tomato they really think has good flavor. I'd love to know what it is because so far I'm not impressed. 


I did ask the Facebook people who will follow get growing with farmer Fred. 

DON SHOR 13:46



And ask them, okay, what what tomato did you really like from 2023? And I did get a reply from somebody whose opinion I respect. He's a high school horticulture teacher and he said he loved Purple Boy. And so, okay, well, that's good enough for me. I'll give that a shot. So I've got some purple boy seedlings coming up. 

DON SHOR 14:05

Now I'm writing it down as we speak. 


I will tell you what the Parks catalog says about Purple Boy. 

DON SHOR 14:11

Purple Boy. 


And by the way, I believe the seed is still available from Totally Tomatoes, if you're looking for it. They say it has intriguing color and delectable flavor. Thank you very much. 80 days to maturity. It's an indeterminate. And here we go with the Playboy Playmate of the Month description. “This tomato combines all the true homegrown tomato tang flavor of the heirloom Cherokee Purple, but with an improved disease resistance package. So now where Cherokee Purple was under high disease pressure and did not grow well, this hybrid can be grown and enjoyed all summer long. The Purple Boy hybrid tomato is resistant to nematodes, fusarium, verticilium wilt and tobacco mosaic virus. It is slightly ridged and very symmetrically shaped. These stunning violet purple tomatoes combine juiciness with strong tomato tang, the type unknown to those rock hard supermarket varieties. Boy, that's a cheap shot at supermarket tomatoes. 

DON SHOR 15:12

Well, of course they have. They have to harvest supermarket tomatoes before they ripe. And the one thing that you should remember, we were just talking earlier about allowing your garden tomatoes to ripen a little more on the counter. It's not a bad plan to do that with the ones you find at the grocery store, too. They are a climactic fruit. They do continue to ripen after you pick them. If you buy it and it's firm, it's not really ripe yet. And so letting it ripen a bit more on the counter would at least improve those supermarket tomatoes. But I will give that one a try - Purple Boy. I'll run out and get some seed as quickly as I can and get that going. 


It does have warnings about it at the end of the description, though, it's it says to stake this vigorous plant well. And then offer a little extra help to bring in its crop of giants. We recommend pruning the plant as it grows. For extra large tomatoes, remove all but a few flowers so the plant can concentrate its energy into fewer fruit. They may need some support as they mature on the plant, their massive weight pulling them downwards. 

DON SHOR 16:11

Their massive weight. Well, you know, it is a good idea to stake your tomatoes.  And it is true that if you remove all except the first fruits that form, you will get bigger fruits. Firstly, I've never done that because I'm not really too concerned about that. But there's nothing wrong with that advice, I guess, except that,  the main thing is get them up off the ground. This is really important. Stake your tomatoes,  no matter what kind they are, except for some of these brand new little compact, miniature or dwarf tomatoes, as they're calling them. All the others, even determinate types, need to be staked up to some degree. 


That's why I have actually picked for 2024 an oldie but a goody in that regard. A container tomato called Bush Early Girl, which produces fairly good sized tomatoes. But on a plant that only gets 18 inches tall. 

DON SHOR 16:57

Right there are there's a whole series now, the dwarf tomato series are becoming very popular. I have grown some of these. I haven't grown that particular one. You'll find the yields are okay for what they are. I mean, this is a small plant. There's a bunch of little miniature tomatoes, LIttle Napoli, Little Sicily. One of my growers handed me a Mini Marzano. The plant grew 16 inches by 16 inches. Produce about 12 fruit, each of which was about one ounce.  You know, if you're in an apartment and you have a balcony, that's a fun thing to do. Many of these are not going to give you the yields you're expecting. And in some cases, in the case of the two that I grew, I didn't find the flavor all that outstanding. But there's a lot of people that don't have garden space. Then as someone who's in a town where there's lots of people living in apartments, it's actually handy to have these for fun. They're kind of like a little bush basil plant. You can grow them in a container. Most tomatoes don’t do great in containers. These do work in containers. So look for those if you're limited for space. But don't count on very high yields and don't count on super rich summerlike tomato flavor that  you're going to get from an Early Girl out in the garden that’s had full sun all day. 


Unlike supermarket tomatoes.

F1 S3 18:06

Right. All right. 


The bush early girl by the way, is a compact determinant, which means it's going to set most of its crop once and then you can pull it out, I guess. But it ripens in 54 days. 

DON SHOR 18:19

Yeah. And determinant tomatoes are actually really an important thing for people who are wanting to conserve water. This is an interesting aspect of this. People are limited for space or who want to water less. You can plant them, get them going early in the season, stake them up. Again, they will typically be 3 to 4 foot tall. In the case of most of the ones I'm aware of, they will flower mostly all at once. Set mostly one big crop. Yeah, they continue a little bit afterwards. But if you really want to do this and you want to have room in your garden for some of those vegetables that need early planting are limited for space. They're good at processing, freezing, drying, things like that. Then you might want to plant some determinate tomatoes. Water them deeply, let them do that one big crop, get it put in the freezer, get it put away, take the plants out, and then you can plant your brussel sprouts. So this is actually a way that you can cut back on irrigation. I mean, if it's a determinate type, then the crop is set. I mean, the farmers here in Yolo County, where tomatoes are the number one crop still, actually they bumped almonds off the top. Tomatoes are back. They do stop irrigating as soon as the fruit is set on them, you do it. This is true. You do get richer flavor. You know it even is said to be better is better for you healthwise. But you're not going to get any fruit after about the end of August. So keep that in mind if you're choosing determinant types for some of these miniature tomatoes. 



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I think the seed catalogs especially the specialty tomato seed catalogs like Totally Tomatoes are getting wise to me because they're starting to throw packets of other tomato seeds in with my order of things that I didn't order because they think, “he'll plant anything”, just send it right. 

DON SHOR 23:03

They did that to us, what, two or three years ago? They sent this one out. It was just a number at the time and I remember sending a note to the owner of Seeds ’N Such. “What is this one? We need to know. This is really a great performer. It stayed firm late in the season. It produced well. It was a compact plant.” He goes, Oh yeah, we're going to send that with them next year with a name. It’z a Keeper. And that turned out to be an outstanding variety and I really do highly recommend it. It is really firm. It's one of those tomatoes that you just wonder if it's ever going to ripen. It is ripe. It's just very, very solid. The name, “It’z a Keeper” refers to the fact that it can sit on your counter, pick it in mid-October, three or four weeks later, it is still just fine and still has very good flavor. Again, you're going to have to find it yourself, because hardly any retailers are going to have that one available. But It’z a Keeper is an interesting new variety that I think has a lot to recommend it. 


I've got a couple of those questionable freebies growing now. One is called Super fantastic and the other is called Jetstar. 

DON SHOR 23:59

Jetstar. I haven't done either of those. 


Well, I tell you, if you live in Canada, you would like super fantastic. Even though I planted it at ten ounce tomatoes, indeterminate. Okay, What else is new? Well, according to West Coast Seeds, which is based in British Columbia, super fantastic tomato seeds produce hearty, vigorous vines that adapt well to a variety of climates, immensely popular and an excellent producer on the West coast of British Columbia. These rich, meaty beefsteak tomatoes are very versatile. All right. 

DON SHOR 24:30

West Coast of British Columbia is a pretty wet, cool place. Yeah. And it's like it's like Oregon, Oregon. There are have always been special varieties from Oregon State University that are very well adapted to those climates. And this is really important. Since your podcast is worldwide, there are regional varieties you should ask about. If you're in San Francisco, there's a San Francisco Fog variety. For my father in coastal San Diego, he’ll look for a particular one that was recommended by garden centers down there. Because if you're cooler, if you're in a climate where it really never gets as hot or warm as it does here, buy local.  Here, we have sunshine, relentless sunshine in the Sacramento Valley from about May first until almost the end of October. We can grow just about any tomato variety here in terms of the vigor of the plant and yield, as long as it isn't sensitive to high temperatures for pollination. And you don't have that condition in Fort Bragg, California, you don't have that even in Berkeley. You have particular varieties that local gardeners are going to know and your local garden center is going to know. So you do have to seek those out. Some of these ones we've recommended will probably do very well. Juliet, ay All-America selection, for example, has been tested in a wide range of climate conditions. But, you know, some of the ones we've talked about, like Pineapple or Cherokee Purple, may not be suited in a cooler climate where you just don't get the heat input that we get here. 


But if you are subject to morning fog on a regular basis, maybe try that Super Fantastic tomato, the hit of western British Columbia. 

DON SHOR 25:58

Now, we mentioned  compact varieties. There is one that I find myself recommending more and more year after year and I think you're going to grow it this year. When I first read about it, it was described as the classic tomato for sun drying and it is very, very good for that. In fact, I started growing it just for that purpose because one of my staff people just loves to take them and cut them in half and dry them. It's Principe Borghese. 


Yeah, you wore me down on that one. 

DON SHOR 26:25

If I apologize to Italian speakers out there, I have no idea if I'm pronouncing it correctly, but  that's how it's spelled. The Principe Borghese is a very compact plant. It's a very determinate plant, produces quite a large number of small fruit all at once. You can harvest the whole thing and you can cut them in half and dry them and in our climate you can do that literally by cutting them in half and drying them on trays, you know, right out of the sun. If you want to do that. It also happens to be very good for sauces and salsas, things like that. And it's a very compact variety. So people who are limited for space that really like a rich flavored, almost gourmet quality tomato, look into Principe Borghese.


Now is that a a cherry tomato? 

DON SHOR 27:11

It's really more in the Roma category. It's a little more elongated, more firm, more meaty than a cherry tomatoes. For me, Cherry tomatoes are generally very juicy, and this one is not in that category. So it's really more like a sauce or salsa tomato, that meaty texture, but very, very good flavor. 


That's what a Gardener's Delight is supposed to be like most years. 

DON SHOR 27:32

It probably is. 


Yes, in most years. Yeah. The Jetstar one that I'm growing to that I know nothing about is advertised as being a prolific producer of big globe shaped fruits that ripen all the way through. Well, that's good to know. Excellent flavor with low acidity, nice compact habit, indeterminate. It gets 3 to 5 feet tall. It does not state the size of the tomatoes though. So I don't know. I'll be trying it just as large fruit have a mild taste and ripen evenly all the way through. Is that a problem? 

DON SHOR 28:06

I don't think it's a problem for us generally, but I guess it is in some places. Yeah. 


So I guess so. 

DON SHOR 28:13

Late last year I remember we talked about a very strange tomato that I was growing and I told you, I'll give you a report card on this one again. Now for German speakers, I hope I'm not mispronouncing this one… Riesetomate. It looks like a bunch of grapes. It's a single tomato with numerous lobes. They look like, as I say, a bunch of red grapes, all one fruit with all these lobes on it. It produced at least 80 fruit for me. These are very, very rich flavors. It's the kind of thing where you just break off a piece and eat some fresh. Apparently, that is what most people do. But what I did was a little bit of a hassle, but I cored them and I cooked them down into a sauce. It has a very high seed count. And so in this case, there's a lot of seed that had to be strained out, but it made a very rich, tangy sauce. It's got a very high acidity, which is great for some dishes and not for others. Some people don't like that, some people do. There's really strong preferences for tomato flavor out there. I get people who say, “I don't want those sour tomatoes. I want the sweet ones I grew up with”. This will be in the sour end category, the high acidity category. It made amazing salsa and it was one of the strangest looking tomatoes I have actually ever grown. So if you have room in your garden and you want to grow something truly weird, look for the Riesetomate tomato. And as I say, it looks like a bunch of red grapes all fused into one fruit. 


I just went online to see what a Riesetomate looks like and there are all these other Riesetomate types. There's a Riese that I'm looking at from Rare Seeds that looks like a very deep red cluster of grape sized tomatoes. 

DON SHOR 30:04

Yeah, that's basically what it looks like, except it's all one fruit. And the flavor on this is phenomenal. And it is, as I say, it's very odd looking, the  Riesetomate. And it's a fun one. I mean, every year I grow something for fun. And this one, the yield was amazing. This is the other thing. Every now and then I'll go in for fun and I get three fruit that's not particularly satisfactory. This one is a very good producer for me. At least the first year. Got to give it a couple more years to see if it's really worth recommending. 


Good. Following your own advice. 

DON SHOR 30:37

Because I can do that.


That helps. Yeah. Now, my job now is trying to figure out where I'm going to plant everything, and I think I'm going to be leaning into my Smart Pots more and more for planting some tomatoes. So I'm looking at at smaller growing varieties as far as total plant height. And I think the Bush Early Girl will fill that bill. And  I hope my wife isn't listening. I probably should find another container sized tomato, too, to plant. 

DON SHOR 31:07

Oh, there's a Bush Champion, which I've said I've been told does very, very well. So it's just another one where it's a more compact version of an already familiar fruit. One thing I have done is I've tested this even though I have plenty of space. I do grow tomatoes in containers to see kind of what's the minimum size of a pot needed. You mentioned the Smart Pot. What is the volume of your Smart Pot? 


I just got one that's 100 gallons. 

DON SHOR 31:29 

Okay. There you go. 


Smart Pots come in one, five, 15, 20, 24 gallon sizes and bigger. They come in a wide variety of sizes. 

DON SHOR 31:36

So the very bare minimum that I have found for a normal determinate or normal, indeterminate tomato, not one of these miniature ones,  bot for especially ones that are regular tomatoes, let's say an Early Girl or any other tomato, is a 15 gallon nursery pot, which I just typically happen to have around. So the kind of thing you'd buy a tree in originally and it holds one and a half cubic feet of potting soil, which is a fairly typical size you'll find at garden centers nowadays, that's our standard for potting soil. Don't skimp on the quality of the potting soil. I can tell you you'll get your money's worth by buying a better quality potting soil. But to me that one and a half cubic foot minimum size has really been the key. Anything less than that, like a five gallon or even a ten gallon container by the 1st of July or watering every day. Even in the 15 gallon, you're probably going to be watering every day by the end of July. And so just the volume of soil seems to be the biggest factor in the success here in the valley, where we have such a hot, dry climate and no rainfall in the summer. If you have it on a drip system, the smaller container might work well. But that's just been my experience, use One and a half cubic feet for soil. When a new tomato growing system comes along, that's my first question. What's the volume of soil? And there are some great tomato growing systems out there that people are using or they're limited for space. They don't have actual garden soil. Look for at least a one and a half cubic feet. Bigger is better. There's a crop out there that a lot of people are growing legally now. They didn't used to grow legally and there's a whole lot of containers for them. These great big cloth bags that you can use. It might be worth looking into some of those even bigger containers. But 100 gallons should handle it for you, Fred. And a half barrel typically holds about three cubic feet of soil, plus a little bit more. I mean, you can grow one tomato in a half barrel, you can grow a couple of smaller tomatoes. But anything smaller than that, down to the 15 gallon, is just going to be a hassle here in the valley. If you're listening in a place where your climate is mild, you don't have to water things every single day. You might get by with a smaller container size. But for me, I am looking for container that holds at least one and a half cubic foot of soil. Also, buy a soil that retains moisture reasonably well and also has nutrients added to the potting soil. Do that and you won't have to worry about fertilizing later in the season. That should carry you through. And my experience is one indeterminate tomato, a couple of determinate tomatoes if you really want to crowd them in; or two or three pepper plants work fine in that larger size container. But really, the bigger the soil volume, the easier your life will be. What will happen otherwise is it'll all be going great. Then you'll get to the middle of August, you'll go on vacation for a week, someone won’t water it, and the whole thing will just fizzle out. So get a bigger volume if you can. Here's another trick. Set it on the dirt if you have any dirt, so it can root down into the soil below if it has to,  that can also save you some trouble. 


Yeah, but you don't want to clog the drain holes. You do want drainage. 

DON SHOR 34:26

Yes. Yes. It's very important to have good drainage. 


Yes, it is. Just so we're all clear on this, I'm not using that 100 gallon container to grow tomatoes.  I'm doing a test in Smart Pots in a 100 gallon container, growing Pluerry trees. 

DON SHOR 34:41

Pluerry trees. Okay. You definitely need a big soil volume for that. 


I'm going to maintain a height of the trees to about 5 to 6 feet and just see how much fruit I get. The Pluerry is a plum-cherry cross from Dave Wilson Nursery. It's a cross between plums and cherries. There are several varieties and I planted two of them because one acts as a pollenizer. 

DON SHOR 35:03

Oh yes. 


I'm looking forward just to testing out these Smart Pots to see if they can handle that kind of a fruit tree. And can it produce for years? And one tip I got from Tom Spellman from Dave Wilson Nursery was that when you grow a fruit tree in a container, you have to control its width. If you control it so that the branches are no wider than a one and a half times the diameter of the pot it's in, that tree will survive for years. 

DON SHOR 35:37

Wow. Okay So you're doing some pruning for size control, right? Presumably some are fruiting and you're making sure that it doesn't get too big and woody. The bigger the soil volume obviously, the better in that situation. But he knows what he's talking about there. That's definitely the man to give you advice on that topic. Fruit trees and containers are always very challenging. Tomatoes in containers are very challenging for a lot of my customers who are looking for a way to do this. That saves them trouble in the long run. Many are heading out to hardware stores. They're buying livestock troughs. Now, these galvanized livestock are not cheap, but they really last well. You can buy plastic ones if you prefer, but the galvanized ones are very popular. Don't forget to take the plug out before you fill it. And I think it's probably a good idea to drill a couple more holes down there. They hold a significant volume of soil. I've actually grown blueberries in livestock troughs with very, very good results. That's what I'm doing. Yeah. And I would think you could do some of the fruit trees that way as well.  


The other benefit of drilling a couple of extra holes in those watering troughs too. You can bring a drip line up through it too. So it has a more neat appearance. 

DON SHOR 36:43

Yeah. For my blueberries, and this is getting off on a bit of a tangent here. I use micro sprayers. I found they gave good coverage and then they kind of sprayed over. So I put another couple of containers next to the livestock trough and put strawberries in those. You can expand this out. They grow all kinds of things in there, growing food plants in containers. But watering is job one. And that really is the key here in the Sacramento Valley or anywhere that you're as hot and dry as we are. Get a drip line in there. So  that it just happens more or less automatically. Otherwise,  you can't travel, you can't have a life. You have to stay home and water your plants. 


Let's dovetail that back into tomatoes. Are you looking at more shade to grow tomato plants now? 

DON SHOR 37:25

It wouldn't be optimal, unfortunately, for yield, but I do have customers where they have a lot of trouble, with sunscald on the fruit. And then a couple of years ago, we had an extreme heat event, September 20, 22, in Davis. It got to 116 degrees, two days in a row, absolute record. Then it was 110 for two days in a row and there was 106 for three days in a row. If your tomatoes were under irrigated, they fried right out there in the garden. That was really, really hot. But we can anticipate that will probably happen again at some point in the future. And too, if you shielded them a little bit from 4:00 pm on, the hottest time of day,  with some shade cloth or position it such that there's perhaps a fruit tree or something, giving it a little shade in the late afternoon, you can get your fruit through. But also a bit of standard advice I'm finding myself giving, which I wasn't giving 20 years ago… If it's close to ripe and we're going to have an extreme heat event, pick the fruit, bring it into the house, set it on the counter, let it ripen there. iI will ripen properly over 5 to 7 days indoors, even if it's just blushing into color, even if it isn't yet fully colored up. You can let it ripen indoors. If you leave it out in the garden in extreme heat, here's what happens. The plants’ metabolism changes, it slows down the ripening. And the fruit is more vulnerable to sunburn. But indoors, under even temperature conditions, it ripens the way it's supposed to. So if there's any question about the weather, let's say you're listening in a rainier climate or a place where you have a sudden shift in temperature, but especially high temperature, bring it into the house. When any of that kind of weather threatens and just let it continue ripening on the counter. 


I just opened my garden diary page to September 30th, 2022. We had the same heat you had there. I wrote “Shortest tomato season ever.” 


Yes, Yes indeed. 


Yes. Tomato season ended September the 30th. 

DON SHOR 39:21

Yeah. And this is the thing I really count on - an October harvest. I mean, that’s when I have my big harvest of tomatoes and peppers every year. And that's what I'm after, is to have them both ripening at the same time so I can make salsa and things like that. It is generally in the month of October. They set in August. Usually we get our August cooldown. We cool down for a few days in August and you get really good pollination and it's only about 49 to 50 days from pollination to ripening, which takes you into October. And I can always count on that, except in 2022, the extremely heavy harvest of nice ripe tomatoes and nice red ripe peppers right about the same time in the month of October. That's something people don't get a lot of in other parts of the country. And so if there's any threat to that, like, let's say an epic heatwave in September as we had that year, you better pick some early and bring them into the house just for insurance. I know we all like to let them ripen on the vine, because that's what we're growing them for. But a little bit of insurance to have them ripen on the counter. 


One more note, about 2023 results out at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, the Sacramento County Master Gardeners did a little tomato trial, too, and it was an interesting comparison. They planted Big Beef, Lemon Boy and Celebrity, and they also grew Big Beef Plus, Lemon Boy Plus and Celebrity Plus. So were these newer varieties really an improvement? The results were rather mixed. 


DON SHOR 40:54

What is the plus? Does it refer to disease resistance?


Disease resistance or productivity. Apparently, these Celebrity tomatoes, both you and I have this hate love relationship with Celebrity tomatoes. 




But a Celebrity is a semi determinate tomato that generally has a fairly neat growing habit, maybe five or six feet or so. 

DON SHOR 41:16

Yeah. Intermediate size. 


Yeah. Well, apparently they wrote that the Celebrity stayed fairly compact while the Celebrity Plus climbed up to the top and over the cages. 

DON SHOR 41:28

Okay, they were more vigorous. Yeah, more of a problem. One of the problems I've always had with Celebrity is although It's a very popular variety, it’s not a vigorous plant in general. And the foliage doesn't shelter the fruit, particularly if there is a very heavy yield. People love the flavor. It's very versatile. But I've always had more of a problem with sunscald on Celebrity than almost any other variety, because it doesn't shade the fruit. So that's a case where the Plus might be a plus. As with respect to the other is disease resistance. Yes, fusarium resistance. Fusarium resistance can be very, very useful for nematode tolerance. And there's quite an alphabet soup of resistances on tomatoes that you find in seed catalogs, for the most part, West Coast or anywhere west of the Mississippi. You don't have to worry too much about all those other things you see on there. They're typically late blight, leaf blight, disease resistant. Those are not huge problems for us, but often can be very useful because if you do get those problems, they can be very, very frustrating. You don't have to have every tomato in your garden to be fine, but it is a bad idea to have at least one or two because those soil borne diseases can be very exasperating when you get them. 


We were talking earlier about the Super Fantastic tomato, the pride and joy of the West coast of British Columbia, and the alphabet soup after the name of the Super Fantastic had me going online trying to figure out what the heck is that? Besides the C, FF, A, and TMV, it had GLS and I'm going What is GLS? And it turns out it's gray leaf spot, which sounds like something you get in moist climates. 

DON SHOR 43:01

Yeah, sounds like botrytis or something of that sort. And that would not be typically a problem for us here. Again, in our very dry climate, I had a customer walk in a couple of years ago who had just planted his 50 tomato plants and I thought, Oh, where'd you move here from? And it was  USDA zone five OR Zone six. And I said, Well, that's a lot of tomatoes. How close did you space? Oh, two feet apart. Okay, Well, we'll talk about that in a moment. What can I do for you? And he said, well, I want to know when should I start my fungicide rotation?  And I said, I have never sprayed a tomato with a fungicide in my life because I live in a place as do you now, congratulations, where we don't have those problems. It doesn't rain in the summer here. And so you typically don't have to worry about all that other stuff, such as Botrytis, and the leaf spotting,  the late blight, early blight, bacterial leaf. Watch for those when you're buying your plants, though. And if we have a wet spring, they can be a bit of a problem. But they just go away here typically because we are here, about 10 to 12% humidity on a typical afternoon in May, June, July. And those diseases just can't get a foothold here. 


Jetstar Tomato, I don't think I talked about that this free seed that I got from totally tomatoes that okay, yeah I'll plant it. Let's see what happens because that's the way I am. It calls it our most versatile hybrid is equally suited for the home gardener or the commercial grower. Early maturity and high yielding large fruits have a mild taste and ripen and ripen evenly. All the way through. 

DON SHOR 44:25

Because that's a problem somewhere. 


Yeah, but… 

DON SHOR 44:28

Wait, back up though. Back up.  A mild taste?


Mild taste. I don't know what that means. 

DON SHOR 44:36

Not real flavorful in this one. 


That’s how I read that, too. But if you grew up on supermarket tomatoes, maybe that's the mild taste they are referring to. 

DON SHOR 44:45

So out of all these tomatoes we've talked about, I don't think we've really touched on cherry tomatoes. And that's a category that I love for novice gardeners to buy if they walk in. If they've never grown tomatoes before, and they want to plant three or four, I want to make absolutely sure they walk out with one cherry tomato. There's a whole bunch of different kinds out there. The thing about them is they'll produce almost no matter which cherry tomatoes you choose. If you're  limited for sun, yeah, your cherry tomato will grow fruit there. I mean, it's not perfect, but it will. And if you have sun and you have a way to contain it, because they are generally very, very vigorous, they can be extremely productive and very reliable. And, you know, Sungold is still the most popular cherry tomato that's out there, beating older more established varieties such as  Sweet 100, Sweet Million, that whole category. They have their followers as well. There's all these saladette tomatoes that have come on the market,  they all do really well here. I have yet to find a cherry tomato that doesn't grow and yield well. And one group that you might want to look into are the ones that are being produced by Brad Gates, who you've had on your show many times, from Wild Boar Farms. His cherry tomatoes are phenomenal producers and very, very sweet, including Barry’s Crazy Cherry, which produces hundreds of fruit. You want to know what to do with them all. So look for some of those as are open pollinated. Look for the old familiar ones like Sungold kids seem to really like Sungold if you're an old fashioned cherry tomato person, well, you know you can still get red. Sure, it's still out there. And you might find that Sweet Million, that whole group is very useful. But cherry tomatoes are just so consistent and reliable almost everywhere that I really would like to see if you're only planting two or three tomatoes, and you really just want to eat them fresh or throw them in salads, make sure one of them is some kind of a cherry tomato. 


Yeah, you talk about locally grown tomatoes and developed here, that’s Wild Boar Farms and Brad Gates. Right? Right in town, right here. 

DON SHOR 46:31

Yeah. And they and they've been very good performers. I've tested most of them. The really interesting. Brad really likes colorful fruit. That was the first thing that really attracted him to these open pollinated seedlings that just came up spontaneously in his farm. And there are some of his that are real workhorses for me. I always plant sweet carneros pink. I always plant pork chop. That's a very good yellow tomato, if you like that kind of tomato. Very good. Reliable producer Michael Pollan, named after the author, is being sold under a different name here. Remember what the other old mint julep is? The name is being put out in the southern states, and it's a very good producer. Very interesting. What a really unusual guy. I do recommend trying some of his. They're different. There are some of them have more acidic flavor. Some of them are very, very sweet. But in general, his three more series, Sweet Carneros, Pink Pork Chop Berries, Crazy Cherry. Michael Paul, all very good performers. I play on each of those that I just went through very quickly every year and we we just love to mix them in with the other types because they're so colorful and really interesting fruit. 


And you can get them as seed. And in more places, you can find the plants, at least around Northern California. And mail order company Peaceful Valley Farm Supply is now carrying Wild Boar Farm’s tomatoes as well. 

DON SHOR 47:43

So you can save the seed. So they're all open pollinated. So once you get them going, You can save it carefully. You have that variety just like an heirloom, basically like heirloom tomatoes. They're modern heirlooms. I believe that's what we call an oxymoron. One of his problems, from a business standpoint, he doesn't control the seed when it's out there. 


How much space do you need between tomato plants to stop cross-pollination? 

DON SHOR 48:08

If you really want to carefully save an heirloom or an open pollinated type, it's more a matter of protecting the flower after you've have pollinated it, because bees and particularly bumblebees or the carpenter bees, which are very common in our area, the xylocopa bees, will go quite a distance from one tomato plant to another. Well, tomatoes are self pollinating. They don't need bees, they pollinate simply by vibration. The risk is that that carpenter bee or that bumblebee, went to your Early Girl and now came over to your Barry’s Crazy Cherry, and you happened to save that fruit. Now you have a hybrid. So what you do is you tickle the flower no matter how close it is to the others, they got to be anywhere in the same garden would be problematic. And then you cover it with cheesecloth or some little little mesh bag or something. So you know which fruit you save, which you've carefully hand pollinated, and you've prevented it from cross-pollinating. It's not hard to do. It's not hard to save your own seed. But if you're like a Fred Hoffman or Don Shor and you've got 30 different varieties out there, you may get some interesting hybrids. Be careful about how you save your open pollinated seeds. 


Exactly. And yeah, that's a good idea too. And you don't have to bag each piece of fruit or every flower. Just the one or two you want to save for seed, right? 

DON SHOR 49:18

And you don't need that many. And almost any of these will produce a surprising amount of seed. And of course, you know, you can buy a new plant next year at your local garden center. 


They sell little bags that are great for protecting young fruit from rats and squirrels. Although the squirrels in my neighborhood have figured out how to untie the bag and take it off the fruit. 

DON SHOR 49:36

That didn't take long. 


No, no. Oh, well, what can you do? 

DON SHOR 49:43

So if you get a little overwhelmed when you're going out there to try and choose tomatoes, I mean, this is something that I really emphasize because I just recently looked at the Master Gardeners list from the Sacramento Master Gardeners. It's an outstanding list. Our friend Dan Vierria apparently edited it. I don't know how many varieties are on there. There's a whole lot of them. It looks like a committee of tomato folks sat around and passed around their favorite varieties and talked about them. And that can be a bit much for a new gardener. So getting back to the basics, get a couple of hybrids for reliable yield and disease resistance. Early Girl or New Girl, Better Boy Champion, Celebrity, if you like that one, or Whopper. There's a bunch of them. Rugby is an outstanding one. These are hybrids that we know will have good yield and good disease resistance. And, be sure to plant some kind of small fruited types. You get a lot of fruit on something Sungold and Sweet Million. Juliet cherry tomatoes,  that kind of thing. Plant a couple of heirlooms that someone has told you did well for them at least once, preferably two or three times. So I'll include Mortgage Lifter or Pineapple. I've mentioned those that you shouldn’t plant, such as Brandywine, because it just doesn't yield here in California. Well, it's a wonderful tomato in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania, but it doesn't take our heat. Be very careful about official beefsteak types because they don't yield. Well, here, Beefsteak, Beef Master, they just don't sit well above about 85 degrees and then look at some of these heirloom types or the open pollinated ones. Personally, I like Italian heirloom tomatoes of various types. Santorini tomatoes from Greece; Costaluto Genovese is one of my favorites, even though Fred doesn't particularly like it (because it overripens too quickly on the vine), but  it's a family favorite. Or some of the Wild Boar Farm types. Get a mix of them. Diversify your portfolio, as we like to say, and make sure at least a couple of them are reliable for the area where you're living. 


The training wheels tomatoes. Good for any gardener. 

DON SHOR 51:37

Yeah the basics. and you mentioned Gardeners Delight. Usually that is a very reliable tomato and I have customers that swear by it and so  I want to see a new gardener getting some that we know are going to do well for them. Yes. One that I was reintroduced to a couple of years ago was Big Beef. We talked about not doing beefsteak types. Well, Big Beef can go in early, it sets early, makes a really good size, good quality fruit and seems to be very well adapted. It was an All-America selection winner in the 1990s. So I've added that to my top 20. It’s not in the top ten yet, but is in the top 20. and I have customers that swear by it now because they've gotten very good large fruit as early as the first week of July. And speaking of July, here in Yolo County, Dr. Robert Norris, who has been advising Master gardeners here for decades, strongly recommends 4th of July as an early ripening, very good fruiting tomato. And that's done very well for a lot of people. So that's a case where it's a local variety that has a lot of people that have tried it. It's a tried and true in our region. Wherever you're listening, there probably is one like that. 


So to recap this year I will be planting the well, however you say Principe Borghese. 

DON SHOR 52:44

Principe Borghese. 


Thank you. Rugby, Gardeners Delight, Bodacious, New Girl, Purple Boy, Super Fantastic, Bush Early Girl, Jetstar and one of my favorite cherry tomatoes, Sweet Million. 

DON SHOR 52:58

There you go. 


Well, what do you got going? 

DON SHOR 53:00

Well, we actually have about 40 different varieties going in our greenhouse right now. So I always make sure that there's one of the girls out there, and I'll probably do that side by side comparison. Absolutely. We'll have rugby. I'm doing a second year of one called Super Sauce, which was extremely good. Producer, Bigger than rugby, very similar. One of these very large, meaty soft tomatoes. So I'll be doing that one again. I'll go ahead and give her, I said to tomatoes second ear too, so we can give you a report next year as to whether it was worth all that effort and conversations. And I'll have my usual red and yellow and orange tomatoes from Chef's Choice series, and I'm going to do orange Wellington next to Chef's Choice of Orange, because I've had both and they're both very good. And I'm curious if Orange Wellington, which I found in the Burpee catalogue, is as good a producer as they say it is, and good flavour as they say it is. I've been testing yellow and orange tomatoes for a long time. That kind of settled on that chef's choice orange. But I'm I'm always willing to try another one. It's getting good reports from other parts of the country. 


I still like Dr. Wyche’s Yellow. It’s one of my favorite yellow-orange beefsteaks to grow. 

DON SHOR 54:13

Well, that's one that you would probably not find at your average garden centre. So that's one you better get online and buy seed real quick. Speaking of which, how late can you start tomato seeds here to grow tomatoes for the same season? March? 1st of April? Yes, actually those are both fine because you can plant tomatoes here all the way through May and all the way even into June that we go through this. Retailers, I know people seem to think we're going to get one big shipment of tomatoes and that will be it. We'll be running out. No, no, you can plant tomatoes. You can do them early if you want to do a bunch of stuff to get them going early, you can plant them generally all through the month of April. The end of the month is the best time in terms of soil temperature and night temperatures. The month of May is when I plant my vegetable garden and if I've still got tomatoes around in June, I put them in. I get very good results because as mentioned, we have a very long growing season here and every year as an experiment, I see how late I can plant some tomatoes and still get good yields. First week of July, I have planted three or four tomato plants every year and I've gotten tomatoes from each one of them. And these are Champion and familiar varieties. I've got at least 20 fruits from them, so you can plant quite late in the season where you're listening. You know, if you're listening here in the Sacramento Valley where we had such a long summer all the way into fall with warm weather all the way into mid to late October, but generally speaking, the month of May in most of the country is tomato planting season. And in this area mid to late April is really when we recommend getting started. Don't go in too early. Don't put them in when the soil is cold, you should buy them. I'm never going to talk you out of buying a tomato, but certainly coddle them a little bit. I like to plant my tomatoes when they're 2 to 3 feet tall out of a one gallon container and I can drop them down 12 to 14 inches below what I call the no gopher zone. And I can get them off to a good start. And that's really the best way to go. Don't just take them out in cold soil. You're going to be disappointed. 


I noticed that two of my favorite tomatoes from last year, the Rugby and the Bodacious, I planted on June 3rd. 

DON SHOR 56:12

And you know, there's lots of parts of the country where people don't even think about this stuff until Memorial Day weekend. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, we can start earlier here because we warm up earlier, but there is no advantage to planting way early in cold soil. Of course, it frustrates us because we want to garden as much as you do and we're delighted to sell these things, obviously. But when the plants are exposed to cold temperatures, it sets them back. So buy them, nurture them, coddle them, move them into gallon containers if you have to, then put them out in the garden. Well, as the old saying was, if you're modest, go out there and sit down on the ground in shorts. If you're not cold, the tomatoes won't be either. 


Let's spend a minute talking about one of the best tips you've ever told us. And it works like a charm. And that is to move up your tomatoes in container size. If you go to the nursery, and buy a tomato in a four inch pot or the jumbo pack, which is actually a smaller soil volume per plant. And those six packs, you get them out of there when you get home and plant them in a bigger pot, you could plant them from that into a one gallon pot. Let them sit in a protected place and they’ll be happy in that pot for another three, four or five weeks or whatever, because it's going to develop a root system that's going to really give that plant a good head start. 

DON SHOR 57:30

Keep them moving. I mean, that's really crucial. They're a very vigorous vine and their roots will go quite deep. Tomato roots can go 3 to 4 feet deep, if the soil allows, and then the plants are very vigorous.  When you leave them in that little four inch pot sitting on your porch waiting for the soil to be warm enough, they get very, very root bound. I have planted those out with adequate results. I tear those roots apart when I put them in. I mean, people watch what I'm doing. They think I'm going to hurt the plant. They know in the long run it'll be a much better plant. But by far the best thing to do is take it home. You know those six packs? Honestly, we're really frustrated with them because you get really rootbound plants. Get them into the next size up, whatever it is they came in - that six pack, then go up to a four inch or a quart size. Ultimately, most of mine, when they go on the ground are in one gallon containers. It doesn't matter how big they get, It doesn't matter if they're two or three or four feet tall at that point. Drop them down deeper. All your friends who grow tomatoes will tell you to do that. It works. They send roots out along the stem, and you get a nice, well-established plant that keeps them moving so they don't get stunted by being root bound. 


By the way, if you were listening to us chatter about tomatoes and you're driving a car and you were trying to write down all the names that we were talking about, and now you find yourself, you know, hugging a telephone pole. Well, fear not. There's a transcript available for the podcast at many locales  where you get your podcast. And now since mid-March, Apple Podcasts is offering the transcripts as well. So all this is  written down where you can find it. 

DON SHOR 58:56

If they if they understood us. 


Yeah yeah I know. Don't go there.  

DON SHOR 59:04

Yeah, the spelling. May be hard to work with, but it'll be fun. 


This is why I'm not worried about AI. 


A guy doing a garden show and the AI transcript always comes back with “roots” spelled “r-o-u-t-e-s” AI is not paying attention. 

DON SHOR 59:22

All right, So for your listeners, we got a request. You got a blue tomato, a purple tomato that you really like. Tell us what it is and we'll try it. We'll give it that 2 to 3 year trial and see if any of them are as good as they sound. Because, you know, there is one other blue tomato on the horizon you've probably been reading about. It's the Purple Tomato, the first genetically modified plant that the public can buy. It is a purple fleshed tomato. It got a lot of publicity. All you do is Google “purple tomato”, and the information about this will all come up. It costs about two bucks a seed. You're not going to find that a whole lot of garden centers, but some of your friends will probably be growing it. It should be interesting to see what it's like. And my first reaction was, why do they do a purple one? Those are terrible. 

 FARMER FRED 1:00:08

Now, wait a minute. It's a seed. 

DON SHOR 1:00:09

You can get seed of this purple fleshed tomato, two bucks a piece and they're out there. You can certainly buy them. It is the first in the United States. There was a genetically modified tomato introduced in Japan last year, which has enriched nutrient status. It has higher  something, vitamin A probably. This one is purple, not just purple skin, but vivid purple flesh all the way through. And I can't remember right off the top of my head the name, but you can find it quite easily. Yes, you can buy the seed, as I say, two bucks a seed and you can grow yourself. And so for years I have I have customers who don't want GMOs. They have customers who think they're interesting. Never was an issue. They would say, Are any of these GMOs? I would say there are no GMOs in the nursery industry or in the garden industry. That's no longer true. This one is out there, but you have to buy  direct from the supplier. So this purple fleshed tomato, there is going to be certainly a lot of conversation about it. I would be great if someone would grow it and let us know how the flavor is and who knows? It might actually get into the trade, as the price comes down. Bot for two bucks a seed, you're not going to see a whole lot of  plant growers jump into that one. 


I just looked it up. It has a very clever name. Purple Tomato. 

DON SHOR 1:01:19

Yeah, well, there is some controversy that I won't get into in too much detail where a well-known company that only sells non-GMO tomatoes was promoting a purple tomato, and it turned out that they were they didn't have the seed yet, and it turned out that it was probably genetically modified. So they backed off from that with great chagrin. It is the only purple fleshed tomato has been developed by genetic modification. Yeah. Not purple skin, purple, not Cherokee Purple, not Black Krim. 


Not just purple skin.

DON SHOR 1:01:54

 No, no,  this is a purple flesh tomato. Quite interesting looking. And I'm guessing some people have already bought the seed. So we'd like to hear your reports on it. 


The purple tomato, as described by its developer who is Norfolk Plant Sciences, the purple tomato. It contains high levels of antioxidants and anthocyanins normally found in fruits such as blueberries and blackberries. 

DON SHOR 1:02:18

Yes. And so far my experience has been that makes them taste pretty astringent. But we'll find out with this one. Maybe they've figured a way around that problem. 


So I'm still trying to figure out, it's a GMO, but it's available as a seed. 

DON SHOR 1:02:34

So your next podcast will be with a genetic expert. Who can tell you how they did that. How they found a heritable condition that could go to the next generation through the seed by genetic modification. 


Yeah. So I would think by the time it gets to the seed level, it's no longer a GMO. 

DON SHOR 1:02:53

Well, there's a matter of definition for organic gardeners. Of course, they're not going to accept this anyway. But it is interesting, this is the first one that actually is out there that people can buy. I mean, you could go buy a GMO seed or not grow corn and other things. You have to sign quite a contract in order to do it. And it wasn't something a home gardener was going to do. This is actually being offered to the public so you can find it. You mentioned the company's name, Norfolk Plant Sciences. Yeah, they got a lot of publicity and it's very attractive looking. I will say that. Let's see how it tastes. 


Yeah, it's purple all the way through. 

DON SHOR 1:03:27

Yep. And ripens all the way through presumably, too. 


We'll see you in the hospital. No, I’m sure it's fine. I wonder if it stains. 


Huh? Yeah.  Someone needs to grow this for us. 


All right. Well done. Once again, it's. It's been fun previewing the 2024 tomatoes, talking about previous successes and and challenges, because that's what tomato growing is all about. It's the voyage. 

DON SHOR 1:04:02

That's right. Every year is different. Keep a journal. It can turn out to be really important data 20 years later when you're trying to remember what that variety was you love so much. 


And to remind you that times now aren't so bad. You can go back in your diary and see the sentence, “Worst tomato year ever.”

DON SHOR 1:04:19

Yes, two years ago. And it ended early, at least, shall we say for sure. Yes. 


Don Shor is with Redwood Barn Nursery. Redwood Barn dot com, they are in Davis, in Yolo County, California, the hub of the processing tomato world of the United States of America that. 

DON SHOR 1:04:35

We are yeah. 


And you'll have a lot of these varieties for sale, I would think. 

DON SHOR 1:04:40

Yeah we buy in, we grow a lot of our own, and this question keeps coming up. When are all your tomatoes going to be here? The month of April is the big selling month for tomato plants. 


Thank you.  Don, thanks again. Appreciate it. And happy tomato growing. 

DON SHOR 1:04:56

Great to be here. Thanks. 



I hope you weren’t trying to jot down all those tomato varieties we just talked about, by my count there were about three dozen tomatoes mentioned. You can find that list of talked about tomatoes in today’s show notes, that’s Episode 317. They were also part of the transcript for the episode, and many podcast services provide the transcript. If yours doesn’t, you can find the transcript at our home page And one more source for that list of tomatoes: this week’s edition of the Beyond the Garden Basics newsletter, which includes links to more information about each variety, including where the seeds might be available. The operative words in that sentence: might be. There’s a lot of “Sold out” signs already posted at a lot of the websites that offer tomato seeds or plants for sale. Also in the newsletter is a mini-podcast, where you can find several of the important points mentioned in that original hour long podcast.

It’s the Beyond the Basics  Newsletter on Substack.There’s a link in today’s show notes. You can also find it at the newsletter tab at the top of our home page, . Or, just go to, and do a search for Garden Basics with Farmer Fred. Or go to slash garden basics (one word).  Think of it as your garden resource that goes beyond the basics. It’s Beyond Basics: The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred newsletter. 


Garden Basics With Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday and is brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics is available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, GardenBasics dot net. That’s where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, Beyond the Basics. And thank you so much for listening.