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Vegetable Gardening for Beginners: Growing Tomatoes and Peppers

See just how easy growing tomatoes and peppers can be when you choose varieties specifically for your climate.

| March/April 2014

  • Tomatoes and peppers are grown similarly, but peppers are picker about climate.
    Photo by Getty Images
  • Choose tomato varieties that are disease resistant to ensure a good harvest.
    Photo by Oxana Afanasieva

You can taste the sun in a ripe homegrown tomato, but only if the tomato plant has enjoyed a robust, healthy life. This is no great challenge in climates where summers are long and warm, but you will need special varieties to grow great tomatoes if you have a short, cool season. Disease resistance is important in all climates because tomatoes can be weakened or killed by several widespread diseases.

To learn more about getting started with your own garden, see Vegetable Gardening Tips for Beginners.

Many tomato varieties that excel in gardens are simple hybrids created by crossing two specially selected parents that have desirable characteristics such as earliness, disease resistance, color or flavor. For example, the ‘Roma’ paste tomato had been around for decades when breeders crossed it with a new coparent back in 1963 to get better resistance to common diseases. Renamed ‘Roma VF’ for its resistance to verticillium and fusarium wilts, this workhorse variety took top billing 50 years later when Mother Earth News surveyed readers on their favorite tomato varieties.

More recently, new hybrids developed at North Carolina State University, Cornell University in New York and Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine offer hope to gardeners who often lose their plants to late blight, a devastating tomato disease that has become much more widespread in the last few years. In addition to being resistant to late blight, ‘Jasper’, ‘Mountain Magic’, ‘Defiant’ and ‘Iron Lady’ also stand a fighting chance with early blight, the too-common disease that causes the lowest tomato leaves to turn brown and die.

Some gardeners want to grow only open-pollinated tomato varieties, which is often a great plan in climates with lots of warm days and mild nights. But mouthwatering heirlooms such as ‘Brandywine’ can fail miserably in funky weather years, so it is always wise to include a mix of varieties in your garden. At right are some trustworthy selections to get you started.

Best Tomato Varieties for Your Location

• Short, cool summers: Try early-maturing cherry tomatoes such as blight-resistant ‘Jasper’, along with heirlooms selected in cold climates around the world such as golfball-size ‘Stupice’ from Czechoslovakia or the heart-shaped ‘Anna Russian Oxheart’.

Diane Goodwin
2/5/2015 10:08:27 AM

If you're having trouble getting pepper seeds to germinate and are using peat pellets, try Coir/coco pellets. For some reason pepper seeds germinate better for me, when I don't use peat based seed starter.

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