Selecting the right tomato variety may mean the difference between success and failure in the home garden. This is especially true in the short-season areas of northern and southeastern Idaho where harvest of the first tomato is often a harbinger of the first frost. But, there are also many other reasons to select a particular variety, such as intended use, size, flavor, and appearance. In some cases, it may also be important to consider disease resistance.
Selecting for end use may be as simple as choosing a tomato with the right color and size. Cherry and grape tomatoes are great for salads and snacking. But you may desire a beefsteak tomato for slicing or garnishing a sandwich. Tomatoes that are superior for making sauces or salsas are available and are much better for this purpose than tomatoes bred for fresh use. They are often called roma or sauce tomatoes. There are also some unique tomatoes that are hollow inside, developed especially for making stuffed tomatoes.
Heirloom and heritage tomato varieties are more popular now than in the past. Some of these tomatoes provide unique colors and flavors. Some produce very large fruit. Many are worth growing just for their conversation value.
Of all the reasons to select a tomato variety, adaptation to your local climate is one of the most important. Areas with short growing seasons, say less than 110 days of frost-free weather, can be difficult for growing tomatoes. There are varieties available that will produce fruit as much as a month earlier than the standard varieties. These may be worth considering if you are having trouble producing ripe tomatoes for more than just the last week or two of the season.
Many of the best tomato varieties are not available in the nursery trade as transplants. To produce these varieties, you will need to buy seed and produce your own transplants. This is easily done if you have a bright sunny window or can set up some grow-lights. Trying new varieties can be one of the joys of gardening. Try some and you may find a new favorite.
To get more information about a number of tomato varieties, view a report of the 2007 tomato variety trial conducted by the University of Idaho at their Aberdeen Research and Extension Center.