From north to south, and coast to coast, tomatoes are consistently the most popular fruit or vegetable in American gardens. But for most gardeners, just any old tomato plant just won’t do.
Some prefer red, some like them yellow, or even purple. Some people prefer tomatoes that are as large as a melon, while others, as tiny as a dime. Some want them juicy, others want a dense, pulpy tomato. Fortunately there are around 700 different tomato varieties in cultivation today.
People start calling us around the middle of February to find out when the tomato plants are going to arrive and to place special orders for the particular varieties that have captured their hearts. Make no mistake—people have very strong feelings about tomatoes!
When trying to decide which tomatoes to plant, there are a lot of different factors to take into consideration. What are you going to use them for? How thick is the skin? How high or low is the acid content? How long does it take them to produce fruit? Are they crack and disease resistant? How big will the plant grow?
This last question leads to your first decision: do you want a determinate or indeterminate tomato plant? Determinate tomatoes are often called bush tomatoes.
The main characteristics of determinate tomatoes are:
- they grow to be about 3-4 feet tall
- they don’t need staking and caging
- the entire crop ripens at one time
- the plant dies after the crop occurs
- a lot of early varieties are determinate
- perfect for people who want massive amounts of tomatoes all at once for canning, etc.
Indeterminate tomatoes are often called vine tomatoes. Their main characteristics are:
- they grow about 6-8 feet (or higher!)
- they need strong staking or caging systems
- they will continually produce flowers and fruit until the plant dies (usually first frost)
- a lot of heirloom varieties are indeterminate
- they are ideal for people who want to add tomatoes to their diet all season long.
Tomatoes are then broken down into four basic categories:
1. Modern/Globe tomatoes
2. Paste/Plum tomatoes
3. Heirloom tomatoes
4. Cherry/ Small Fruited
Modern/Globe tomatoes are your standard variant of slicing tomatoes. They are easily identifiable because they are large, round and red. They can also weigh up to 2 pounds! Great examples are Early Willamette (good tasting, determinate), Better Boy (solid and good for slicing, indeterminate), and Celebrity (crack resistant flavorful fruits suited to our climate, semi-determinate).
Heirloom tomatoes are generally considered to be varieties that have been passed down through several generations (or more) because of valued characteristics, often their great flavor. Heirloom tomatoes come in a large variety of shapes, colors and densities. Beautiful examples of heirlooms are Cherokee Purple (3-5 inch pink purple fruit that continually win taste tests, indeterminate), Mortgage Lifter (sweet mild flavored fruits, large and meaty, indeterminate), and Aunt Ruby’s German Green (green blushed, tart sweet fruit, indeterminate).
Cherry/Small Fruited tomatoes are small tomatoes that belong to the cluster variant. Cherry tomatoes are much sweeter and juicier than larger varieties. Scrumptious examples are Super Sweet 100 (long strands of sweet fruit, indeterminate), Isis Candy (beautiful golden marbled red fruits, indeterminate), and Stupice (Czechoslovakian heirloom with superior sweet flavor, early yields, cold tolerant, indeterminate).
People often ask if the tomato is a fruit or vegetable. In the 1990s, amazingly, the Supreme Court made a ruling on this. Botanically speaking, tomatoes are fruits, but in “everyday life” they are thought of as vegetables. The Justices ruled with everyday life, thus legally they are vegetables. Maybe that’s a good thing, otherwise, wouldn’t that make ketchup a smoothie?
Our bounty of tomato plants arrive this month. Stop by our May 10th Food Fair and chat with Sloan from Teal Creek Farms, one of our main tomato growers.