You want tomatoes this year? First you’ve got to pick (pardon the pun) the kind of tomato that will thrive in your garden and provide exactly what you’re looking for in rosy-red (or orange or yellow) goodness. Choosing the right variety of tomato can be complicated. Two of the factors you should consider are growth habits and varieties. I prefer to have several varieties of tomatoes in my garden, simply so that I can extend the growing season as much as possible, and spread out the canning!
Tomato Growth Terminology
When choosing tomatoes for your garden, it’s important to understand growth habits. Tomatoes grow one of two ways: determinate or indeterminate.
Determinate varieties will grow to a certain size, and then the fruit tends to ripen all at the same time. Indeterminate varieties will grow and produce fruit all season long.
If you’re into canning like I am, you may prefer to have some of both varieties. You’ll have the swells of production with your determinate varieties where you pack away your canned bounty, and then have indeterminate plants to enjoy all summer long.
If you are container gardening, determinates will be the better option for you. The plants tend to be smaller in size, and more suited to containers or even square foot gardening. Nowadays, you’ll even see tomato varieties marketed for containers. Indeterminate varieties will need a strong cage or wiring to stay upright all season long.
Tomato Varieties: What’s the Difference?
Next you’ll want to think about what basic “genre” you want in a tomato plant. This is known as the tomato variety. The terms hybrid, open-pollinated, and heirloom all come into play here and it is important to understand the difference.
Hybrid Tomatoes: Hybrid tomato varieties are simply a cross between two plants that are genetically different. These plants offer disease resistance and reduced tomato cracking, but if you want to save seeds for the next year, hybrids are not for you. Hybrid tomato seeds are typically sterile. If they do sprout, you will not end up with the same plant you fell in love with, so you’ll need new seeds each year.
Open-Pollinated Tomatoes: Open-pollinated tomato plants are those that are pollinated by natural means such as the wind or insects. Seeds saved from open-pollinated tomato varieties will produce plants from the next year that have the same characteristics as the parent plants. On the downside, the color and size of open-pollinated plants is widely varied, so if you’re looking for uniformity, these plants may not be for you.
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Heirloom Tomatoes: Heirloom tomatoes are also open-pollinated plants, but these pure stock varieties have existed for generations. Seek out Heirloom tomato seeds locally, since the plants are usually better adapted to your local weather conditions. Many, many gardeners have fallen in love with heirlooms because they remind them of their past, eating out of their grandparents’ gardens. Heirlooms come in a variety of colors, sizes, and flavors; they offer a taste unlike other tomato varieties.
What type of tomato would you like to plant?