Who doesn’t love the rich summery taste of a good vine ripened tomato? With all the varieties available, how do you know the best one to plant for you needs? The first step is to know a little bit about the basic types of tomatoes, how they grow and how they are used.
Tomatoes are grouped in to two basic categories. Bush types, which are referred to as Determinate and Vine types which are called Indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes stop growing when the top fruits set and ripen. The fruits will all ripen over a short period of time, usually about 2 weeks. Determinate types are great for canning and freezing because you will have a large yield all at one time. They do best staked or caged. Indeterminate vines grow all season and will produce fruits for a long period of time. If you are only growing a few plants for fresh eating, this is the way to go to ensure you have table ready tomatoes all season long. Indeterminate tomatoes often overwhelm most cages and will be easier to manage if well staked. Heavy bamboo poles 4 feet tall or more work very well. You should be able to easily find information on the plant tag or seed package to let you know if the plant you are considering is determinate or indeterminate.
Fruit size is another way to categorize tomatoes.
Cherry, Salad/saladette, and Slicers are the most common sizes:
Cherry tomatoes are a must in my opinion, especially if you have children! They lend themselves to fresh eating right from the vine and entice even picky eaters to try something new! My all-time favorite is Sungold, a bright orange small cherry tomato. It produces a very heavy crop of sweet tasting round fruits all summer long. If you are tight on space, you might try Red Robin. This tiny determinate dwarf plant will easily produce well for you in a pot on the porch or balcony.
Salad or Sauce tomatoes are often smaller fruits with a lot of meat to them. The seed capsules tend to be small and less pulpy than those found in Beefsteak or Slicer types. They are well suited for a wide range of uses such as fresh eating on a sandwich, in a salad, or in salsas and cooked sauces. They can be found in both determinate and indeterminate types. Early Girl, Homeslice, Jet Star, Roma VF and Celebrity are my top picks for full flavor and excellent performance in the garden and in recipes.
Slicers and Beefsteak tomatoes are the quintessential garden tomato! These are the tomatoes that family gardening traditions are made of! One yummy slice can cover an entire sandwich Fruits can often weigh 2 pounds or more. Many of the tried and true heirloom varieties fall in this category. Black Krim, Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and my favorite, Mortgage Lifter, are wonderful heirloom tomatoes that offer great yields of very large fruits. There is a great story behind Mortgage Lifter…
A man known to his community as “Radiator Charlie” was having a tough go of it in the depression era. With no experience, he successfully cross pollinated several types of tomatoes and created what we now call Mortgage Lifter. Radiator Charlie grew these 2-4 pound tomatoes and sold them, earning enough to pay of the mortgage on his auto repair shop at a time when most people were losing their homes and business to economic hardship.
Mortgage Lifter has very few seeds, lots of meat and is one of the tastiest tomatoes you can grow. My other traditional favorites such as Balls Beefsteak and Burpee Big Boy are sure to please as well.
If you are wondering what tomatoes I select to grow as a professional grower, here is my list:
- Tomato Balls Beefsteak – Indeterminate, large fruits
- Tomato Black Krim – Indeterminate, dark purple flesh, incredible flavor, late harvest
- Tomato Brandywine Pink – Indeterminate, pink flesh, low acid heirloom
- Tomato Brandywine Red – Indeterminate, red-pink flesh heirloom
- Tomato Burpee Big Boy – Indeterminate beefsteak type, bright red flesh, large fruits
- Tomato Celebrity – Determinate with a long harvest window, meaty red flesh, great for salsa!
- Tomato Cherokee Purple – Indeterminate purple flesh heirloom with large fruits, later harvest
- Tomato Early Girl – Indeterminate, very early producer of tasty medium size fruits, good flavor and few seeds
- Tomato Homeslice – Determinate, high yielding sweet fruits of medium size
- Tomato Indigo Ruby F1 – Indeterminate cherry with unique purple to blue shoulders on deep red fruits, nice size for a cherry
- Tomato Jet Star – Indeterminate, medium fruit with good meat for salsas, sauces and fresh eating
- Tomato Lemon Boy – Indeterminate, sweet yellow low acid fruits, nice medium size
- Tomato Mortgage Lifter – Indeterminate, 2-4 pound fruits, heirloom variety, few seeds, excellent flavor
- Tomato Red Robin – Determinate cherry type, very well suited for containers, very sweet mid-size cherry fruits with a 2-3 week harvest
- Tomato Roma VF – Determinate, the all time favorite sauce tomato, few seeds, firm meat and rich flavor
- Tomato Sungold – Indeterminate, High yield all summer of super sweet bright orange fruits
- Tomato Supersweet 100 – Indeterminate Cherry type, prolific small sweet red fruits