How I Had the Best Tomato Year Ever…And How You Can Too!

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This year I harvested hundreds of pounds of tomatoes — more than any year in my ten years of gardening. Stellar harvest years come and go, as any experienced gardener will tell you, and sometimes we never know why one year differs from another.

But that’s not the case for my tomato harvest this year. The only reason I have something to share with you that I think will make a difference in your future tomato years is that last year, 2022, was my worst tomato year. That year showed me where the true strengths and weaknesses of my tomato growing were. It also showed me what factors are truly out of my control — for better or for worse.

In 2022, despite growing dozens of tomato plants, I struggled to get enough tomatoes to process into enough to provide our family’s tomato products year-round — my goal each year. This year, however, was a stark difference from last year. At one point I stopped processing tomatoes because I felt like I had enough to possibly last two years!

So, what was the difference? While there were factors I couldn’t control (like weather), there were some chances I made that I firmly believe contributed to the outcome of my harvest.

tomato harvest

Seasonal Differences Between Last Year & This Year

In 2022, the mid-90 degree days began in May (a month earlier than normal in Arkansas) and didn’t let up until well into September. Throughout June and July we had many days that were into the upper 90’s and over 100 degrees. This is hard for tomato plants because when it’s that hot (and in our case, humid), they will drop their blossoms and not form fruit.

In addition, we had a drought for seven weeks. Despite my best efforts keeping the plants watered, it was clearly not enough. Not only did the plants suffer, but much of the fruit they did produce had blossom end rot. (The main cause of blossom-end rot is inconsistent watering.)

I didn’t get a decent harvest until fall when the temperatures finally cooled slightly. This ended up saving my season but I still got the minimum.

tomatoes in basket

In contrast, 2023 was a very different year. We didn’t have near the number of mid-90 degree days in May and June, and they were more sporadic instead of sustained.

The higher heat, which we’re no stranger to, didn’t start until closer to July when a lot of the fruit had already begun forming on the plant. While extreme heat can slow ripening of tomatoes, the bigger threat of heat is to the flowers, which were more plentiful in May and June. Once pollination occurred then, fruit production was just a matter of time.

Another help that mother nature provided was rainfall. While there were dry periods, they were short. Mostly, we enjoyed weekly rain throughout May, June, and July. With this rain, the plants flourished. It’s amazing what rainfall can do for plants that watering does not.

amish paste tomato

Changes I Made in 2023

While it would be easy to chalk up the stellar to weather, the truth was, I made some changes as well that I believe contributed to the success.

After what I experienced in 2022, I learned where the weak spots in my tomato gardening were. I learned which varieties performed better in heat and drought than others.

Armed with this knowledge, I made changes to help my season go better in 2023. The first thing I changed was I stopped planting in the ground. I’ve found over the years that my plants in raised beds performed better with the excess drainage and a higher quality soil blend.


I also switched up varieties to hopefully help avoid blossom end rot and heat stress. The most successful example was in switching out Amish Paste for Hungarian Heart. Both paste varieties offer large, fleshy fruits, but I found Amish Paste did not product in the slightest of heat, and it was more susceptible to early blight.

Hungarian Heart was a great replacement for my southern garden. This year it really impressed me with how much meat it has inside each fruit. This was great for making sauces. It was also so large that one tomato produced an entire bowl of salsa!

I also added in several other varieties as well:

  • Several blossom end rot resistant varieties to test alongside of San Marzano (Pomodoro Squisito was impressive!)
  • Paisano determinate tomatoes in addition to Romas
  • More Pink Fang tomatoes since last year they did well

I went into more detail about all these varieties and their good characteristics in this video.

gardener with harvested tomatoes

Lessons I Learned

Some Things Are Within My Control

I have learned that there are things I can change and control like where I plant and the health of the soil. I can also select the right varieties that work for my climate and with my conditions. I can plant at the right time for my climate so that the plants can thrive.

Some Things Are NOT Within My Control

I can’t control the weather. If it’s extra hot one year or if there’s excessive drought or rain — I can’t change that. All of those things are out of my control, but I can try to work with the weather as much as possible by doing the things above.

tomato products preserved

So What Does This Mean For You?

Now that I’ve told you what all I’ve done and changed, what does that mean you need to do to have a year like I had this year? First off, do what you can, know that you’re going to have bad seasons and good seasons. Know that your control is somewhat limited but take notes of the weather and your plants’ growing habits so that you can know things you can tweak and change for next year. Keep trying new things so you can learn what works best even in the harder years.

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  1. I love the hungarian heart tomatoes as well! This year I tried Pompeii roma tomatoes and they out performed my san marzano by far! I’m in the hot humid south too, soI look forward to trying the varieties you mentioned.

  2. Can you say where you get your seeds? I had a bad case of early blight and blossom end rot this year as well as three years ago and I’d like to try the Hungarian heart as well as others you mentioned but the company I buy from doesn’t sell them.

    1. The heirlooms like Hungarian Heart were mostly from Seed Savers Exchange. The hybrids were from Johnny’s or Territorial Seed Company I believe.

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