Know your Tomatoes

  • The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), also called the love apple, is a herbaceous, usually sprawling plant in the nightshade family widely cultivated for its edible fruit. 
  • Savoury in flavour, the fruit of most varieties ripens to a distinctive red colour. 

Know your Tomatoes - Botany

  • Tomato plants typically reach to 1–3 metres (3–10 ft) in height and have a weak, woody stem that often vines over other plants. 
  • The leaves are 10–25 centimetres (4–10 in) long, odd pinnate, with 5–9 leaflets on petioles, each leaflet up to 8 centimetres (3 in) long, with a serrated margin; both the stem and leaves are densely glandular-hairy.
  • The flowers are 1–2 centimetres (0.4–0.8 in) across, yellow, with five pointed lobes on the corolla; they are borne in a cyme of 3–12 together. 
  • It is a perennial, often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual.

Know your Tomatoes - Growing Types

Determinate tomatoes

  • Determinate tomatoes, or "bush" tomatoes, are varieties that grow to a compact height (generally 3 - 4'). 
  • Determinates stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. 
  • All the tomatoes from the plant ripen at approximately the same time (usually over period of 1- 2 weeks). 
  • They require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting.

Indeterminate tomatoes

  • Indeterminate tomatoes will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost. 
  • They can reach heights of up to 12 feet although 6 feet is normal.  
  • Indeterminates will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the season. 
  • They require substantial staking for support and benefit from being constrained to a central growing stem.

What's best for you?

  • If you have a large garden, and would like heavy crops of tomatoes at certain points in the season, you might want to plan for several determinate varieties. 
  • You would look for two basic pieces of information in the plant catalog or on the plant label when making this decision. 
  • Look for the word "determinate" or the abbreviation "DET" so you know what you're dealing with. 
  • Next, look for the number of days at which the plant will set fruit. 

Growing to preserve

  • To get several nice harvests, try to combine determinate varieties that bear early, mid, and late season crops. 
  • If you are into canning, saucing, or drying your tomatoes, this is probably the best way to go.

Growing for immediate consumption

  • If you want tomatoes for the course of the season for snacking and adding to salads and sandwiches, it is best to go with indeterminate varieties. 
  • Several types of indeterminate tomatoes are very prolific, and a plant or two will more than suffice to meet your needs. 

Indeterminate Varieties

  • Many favorite heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate varieties.
  • The majority of tomato varieties are indeterminate including most heirlooms and most cherry types. 
  • Other indeterminate tomatoes include: 'Beafsteak', 'Big Boy' and 'Brandywine'. 
  • Early producing varieties like, 'Celebrity' and 'Early Girl', are also indeterminate. 
  • However since they tend to mature earlier and die back before the end of the season, they are sometimes labeled semi-determinate.

Determinate Varieties

  • Many paste or roma tomatoes are determinate varieties. 
  • Some others bred to be determinate include: San Marzano (see left), Celebrity, Marglobe and Rutgers.
  • Growing determinate variety tomatoes makes good sense when you want a large amount of tomatoes all at one time, to make tomato sauce for example.

Growing in Pots

  • If you want to grow in containers, you'll probably want to stick with a few different determinate varieties. 
  • They are more well-behaved and better suited to container culture.
  • You can certainly grow indeterminate tomatoes in containers, but be prepared to be vigilant about staking or caging, as well as pruning the suckers to maintain compact growth.
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