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Deb Babcock: Can we grow tomatoes here?

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

On the 'Net

Sources for tomato seeds mentioned in this article:

- Victoryseeds.com

- Seedstrust.com

- Seedsofchange.com

- Henryfields.com

- Burpee.com

— In February and March, the Routt County Cooperative Extension and Master Gardener program offered sell-out classes about vegetable gardening. About 100 people attended to learn about which vegetables can be successfully grown here in the Yampa Valley.

Mostly those vegetables included cold season crops such as salad greens and most root vegetables that have the added benefit of easy storage into the winter months.

But what about tomatoes, just about everyone's favorite vegetable? (Scientifically, it's really a fruit.)

Because our growing season is so short and tomatoes do not flourish in the cold soil and cool temperatures that we experience from September through May, they are not a prime crop for commercial production. Generally, tomatoes will not set fruit or ripen if temperatures dip below 55 degrees.

However, individual gardeners in the Yampa Valley can and do grow tomatoes, usually in containers that can be moved to warm locations when temperatures drop. Many start their plants indoors or they plant seedlings with significant foliage already started in the nursery.

If you plan to grow tomatoes in a container this season, start with a container at least 12 inches across with drainage holes in the bottom. Plastic or glazed ceramic pots or wood barrels and baskets are better than clay pots since they won't dry out as quickly. You can start your plants indoors now, if you like, and expect to transplant the seedlings or move the pot outdoors in June when the weather cooperates.

Be sure to harden off your seedlings before setting them out. This means set your pot outdoors for longer periods of time throughout several days up to a full day and night before leaving them outdoors permanently for the summer. And as Eileen Grover warned at the classes we held, "You'll need to be married to your tomatoes," meaning she moves them indoors on cool nights and back outside the next morning all summer long.

Use loose, well-drained soil with lots or organic matter mixed in for best results. Tomatoes thrive on fertile soil. Check daily to see if the soil needs watering and, in mid-summer, begin fertilizing.

For our short growing season, tomato varieties that we'll have the best luck with are those with fast maturities. Here are some varieties to consider (listed by hybrid name and days to maturity):

Siberia: 50 days

Oregon Spring Bush: 60 days

German Queen: 55 to 70 days

Glacier: 55 days

Early Girl: 50 days

Sasha's Altai (orange tomato): 59 days

Galina's Cherry (yellow cherry tomato): 59 days

Extreme Bush (heirloom): 50 days

Fourth of July (cherry): 49 days

Marmande: 65 days

Matt's Wild Cherry (heirloom cherry): 55 days

McGee: 55 days

Sweet 100 (cherry): 55 days

Tiny Tim (cherry): 45 days

Ida Gold (heirloom orange): 59 days

Stupice: 50 days

Azoychka (yellow): 60 days

Golden Bison (yellow): 59 days

Orange Banana (yellow): 52 days

If you've never had luck growing tomatoes here in Routt County, give some of these shorter maturity varieties a try or purchase plants already started.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us

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