For most of us, deciding on a tomato to grow can be a daunting task. The best way to narrow down what ones you want in your garden is to consider a few main factors.
Determinate or Indeterminate
Tomatoes generally have two different growing habits. Determinate tomatoes are of the bush variety, so the plants grow to a specific height, usually two to three feet, and then bloom and ripen the fruit. Indeterminate tomatoes, or vine tomatoes, continue to grow and produce fruit until they are killed off by frost. Unlike determinate tomatoes that will only blossom once, indeterminate varieties will continuously bloom and grow throughout the entire season.
Determinate tomatoes are ideal for anyone who is growing in a colder climate or who has limited space. Since they stop growing once they have reached maturity, this variety is ideal for pots. The reason it is also ideal for colder climates is because the single crop is good for those who need to collect all the fruit before the cold weather sets in. Determinate tomatoes also have a relatively quick life, with crops ready for picking within two or three weeks.
For those who have the luxury of picking tomatoes over time, indeterminates are the way to go because of their ongoing crops. Since these plants continue to grow, you want to make sure to give them plenty of space and possibly a stake, ladder, or cage so they remain upright. These plants also require a little bit more care, as bad vines will need to be pruned. Do not, on the other hand, prune determinates, as it will kill the plant.
No matter what one you choose, it’s important to also consider the length of time the variety takes to reach maturity.
Heirloom or Hybrids
It should be no surprise that, with so many tomatoes to choose from, many of them were genetically engineered through cross-pollination. These hybrids are the most common tomatoes to grow and find because they have been designed to resist certain diseases and have acclimated to multiple climates so they are stronger than their heirloom predecessors. Since they are able to fight off many of the diseases that attack them, these plants offer a more consistent crop with fewer impurities. Hybrids are great for novice growers as well because they require less care. If you want a large, consistent crop, hybrids are the way to go.
But, as you might have guessed, heirlooms tend to be tastier. They also come in a variety of colors and shapes. Some of the most popular varieties, for example, are purple, pink, green, yellow, and orange fruits that range from round to pear shaped. Gardeners who want to harvest seed from their plants will also prefer heirlooms in order to ensure that next year’s crop is consistent with their expectations. Heirlooms also take longer to mature than hybrids, so they are ideal for gardeners with longer growing seasons.
Tomato plants are delicate, and as such can fall victim to a variety of different diseases. Though this may not be an issue if you only have a plant or two, it’s still a good idea to know about the disease resistance your plants have. Most of the time when you buy seeds or a plant, the label will tell what strains the plant can resist with a simple one- or two-letter indication. In general, hybrids will be more resistant than heirlooms because they are genetically modified to fight off disease. The most common resistances listed are:
• A — Alternaria leaf spot
• F — Fusarium wilt
• FF — Race 1 and Race 2 Fusarium
• L — Septoria leaf spot
• N — Nematodes
• T — Tobacco mosaic virus
• V — Verticillium wilt