Advice for the Home Gardener from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
MGCC Help Desk's Response: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help Desk with your questions. I know the list of available tomato seeds and seedlings can be overwhelming.
Unfortunately, given our area each area can have lots of micro-climates. So we cannot tell you exactly which variety will grow best in your yard. That is highly dependent on your individual circumstances (are you planting in pots, raised beds, the amount of sun, temperature, disease). Your best information on how individual varieties will perform is likely from your successful tomato-growing neighbors.
There is some good information about heirloom tomatoes though. The scientific definition of an heirloom tomato is an open-pollinated variety that will make fruit identical to the parent. This means if you save seeds from your tomatoes you would expect to be able to produce the same fruit year after year. There is disagreement on how old a variety has to be to be considered an heirloom with some saying at least 50 years and others saying at least 100 years. Here are some links to articles written by nearby Master Gardener organizations which discuss heirloom tomatoes in further detail. In addition, if you want to save seed yourself you might look over the website for Seed Savers Exchange.
If you look through our list of tomatoes for our Great Tomato Plant Sale this year, you can see there are lots of different heirloom tomato varieties. It does appear that only one is a determinate variety (Black Sea Man, a slicer). As you likely know, determinate tomato varieties grow in more of a bush form than a vine and tend to set fruit all at once and then decline. For older varieties, most are likely going to be indeterminate. If you look through the offerings on Seed Savers, only 9 out of their 82 heirloom varieties appear to be determinate. You likely have found these lists already but below are the links to our descriptions of all our varieties and the shopping list to make it easier to find what you want the day of the sale.
Thank you for contacting us with your questions. We are very excited to see you for our MGCC tomato sale either on March 30th in Walnut Creek, April 6th in Richmond, or April 13th in Antioch.
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (SES)
Note: UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available almost year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays (e.g., last 2 weeks December), we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 2380 Bisso Lane, Concord, CA 94520. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 608-6683, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/. MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog.