Tomatoes in Florida

22 Jan

We’ve taken a break from the Seaside Farmer’s Market over the last few weekends, though we plan on returning next Saturday. We’ve been away visiting family, something everyone who has the desire should take time to do. If not family, then friends. Just a reminder…

Ok, what’s up with tomatoes in Florida? Not much, at least not in Northwest Florida. Everyone wants to grow tomatoes because tomatoes are the most ubiquitous home garden grown fruit, or the hopeful grower comes from a region of the country where tomatoes thrive like our okra, or the grower wants to recapture the flavorful tomatoes of their youth. I have advice for those tomato-loving hopefuls living in Northwest Florida who want to attempt growing tomatoes: approach this venture with patience, understanding, and forgiveness.

Generally speaking, tomatoes are… shall I say, fickle little buggers in Northwest Florida. Certainly, there are success stories that I won’t discount, but by and far, the stories of lost hope and shameful failure are the ones I hear the most. The most requested seed at my booth on Saturday mornings is the righteous tomato. I find that telling of how desperate we are to taste something real. I rarely indulge in tomato eating, though I love them. The out-of-season, not-so-local, store-bought variety just doesn’t satisfy the craving for the taste I remember as a kid when I would indulge in the tomato sandwich: a lightly salted and peppered, freshly sliced tomato, sandwiched between two slices of white bread, slathered with mayonnaise.

Why is the tomato so elusive to these parts? It has to do with the combination of our climate, our weather patterns, and the fact that we live in an etymologist’s paradise. The wild tomato originated in the Peruvian Andes, a relatively mild climate not unlike the favorable summers of the Midwest, Northeast, and the Northern part of the Southeast. Northwest Florida is part of the Coastal Plains. Our USDA hardiness zone is 8a, 8b, or 9 depending on the map and year referenced. We get freezing temps in the winter, sweltering heat in the summer, ultra high humidity, torrential rain fall, and spells of drought. All of these factors conspire against the tomato and any other temperate natured plant or vegetable as well. Tomatoes stop setting fruit once the temperature reaches 85° F. Tomatoes tend to crack and become susceptible to disease if their water supply vacillates between the extremes . High humidity sets the stage for all sorts of fungal and bacterial problems. For all these reasons I stopped fighting with the tomato. Volunteers are great! Pesky, demanding, plants that require constant coddling are not.

USDA Hardiness Zone Map

So, you still want to grow tomatoes? I’m certainly not going to stop anyone from trying, in fact, if you are able to create the perfect tomato micro-climate I applaud you and hope you’ll share your tomatoes with me at the market. 🙂

Because Moonlight Micro-Farm has many visitors from other parts of the country and Northwest Floridians who – bless their little hearts – romanticize the tomato, I am offering new varieties of heirloom tomato seeds at the market this year. I selected each variety based on different criteria including hardiness, flavor, and uniqueness. In the past, I only offered tomato varieties that I felt were suited to our bioregion, though I have quickly adapted to be more inclusive of other growers needs.

Without further ado, here’s the list with a short description:

  • Thessalonki Tomato – Greek tomato, 6-8 oz. red fruit, crack and sunburn resistant, good for canning or slicing, slightly acidic
  • Cherokee Purple Tomato – Grown by First Nation people, beefsteak style 16 oz. fruit, red hue w/ green shoulders, sweet and smoky flavor
  • Nyagous Tomato – Russian purple-black variety, mahogany color, 6 oz. fruit in clusters up to 6, complex flavor, holds up to cool nights, blemish free
  • John Baer Tomato – Bonny family of tomatoes, 4-5 oz. bright red fruit, tolerates cool weather, excellent for canning
  • Beam’s Yellow Pear Tomato – I’ve successfully grown this tomato many times and it has reseeded itself!! 1 oz, 1.5″ yellow pear shaped fruit, very prolific, great flavor, perfect for salads

See you next Saturday at the market!

1 Comment

Posted by on January 22, 2011 in Heirloom Garden Seeds


Tags: , , ,

One response to “Tomatoes in Florida

  1. pobept

    January 23, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Successful Tomato growing can be a challenge almost anywhere you live. Here in Southwest Oklahoma it’s our ‘hot dry summers, 100+ degree days, no rain for weeks on end – tomato’s don’t seem to like temperatures above about 90%. Some years even watering every day is not enough to keep your summer tomato’s producing.

    I just posted a blog entry yesterday with a nice bit of useful info on tomato’s.

    Happy Gardening


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