The key to a successful tomato garden is selecting the right variety (there are hundreds for your climate). The other important consideration is what type of use you are planning on - sauce, slicing or salads or all three.
Determinate varieties grow to a certain size and then bear fruit. Bush tomatoes are the best example of a determinate type. Since the crop comes in pretty much at the same time, determinate tomatoes are great for canning or freezing for later use. These varieties do not need staking.
Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and bear fruit until frost in fall. Indeterminate varieties can be staked or allowed to grow with abandon, hence the term "tomato vine". Lay down a good bed of mulch to protect fruit that will be lying on the ground. If you stake, use twine or soft cord to tie the plants. Make sure the loop is large enough to allow stem growth and not cut or pinch the plant.
Heirloom tomatoes are old varieties grown from seed saved from season to season. Heirlooms are a category unto themselves. They tend to be less disease resistant and "wilder" in appearance. Fans insist that their flavor and uniqueness make up for any disadvantages.
Hybrid tomatoes are developed to give growers the best characteristics of all varieties. Fruit size, crop yield and disease resistance are all traits of hybrids.
On the plant tag or container you may see some letters. They indicate resistance to various diseases.
- V = verticillium wilt.
- F = fusarium wilt. Two Fs on the label indicate resistance to both types of fusarium.
- N = nematode.
- T = tobacco mosaic.
- A = alternaria stem canker.
- S = stemphylium (gray leaf spot).
Gardeners in cooler climates should remember that early-season varieties are best for their shorter growing seasons. Depending on the variety, these types start to produce fruit in as few as 60 days.
Whether you choose plum or sauce, big beefsteaks for slicing, salad or cherry tomatoes, their names are as colorful as the fruit itself. Brandywine, Better Boy, Early Girl, Mr. Stripey, and German Johnson are a few of the more common types.
Tomato colors themselves range from every shade of red to yellow, orange, purple, and white cultivars. Flavors may be sweet or tart according to the amount of sugar and acid present.
Gardeners wanting large quantities can start tomatoes from seed. Home gardeners can purchase transplants at the garden center. These are about 8 weeks old and ready to put into the ground.