Know the Different Types of Tomatoes and Their Growth Habits and Uses - 27 East

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Know the Different Types of Tomatoes and Their Growth Habits and Uses

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Strawberry Fields is a new indeterminate hybrid from Johnny’s Selected Seeds that is touted to have good disease resistance (rare for an indeterminate) and superior taste. This gardener is hopeful on the taste side but dubious.

Strawberry Fields is a new indeterminate hybrid from Johnny’s Selected Seeds that is touted to have good disease resistance (rare for an indeterminate) and superior taste. This gardener is hopeful on the taste side but dubious.

Candy Bell is a new grape type tomato from Johnny’s that is a determinate type rarely found in grape tomatoes. The downside against the indeterminate is that this with this variety all the fruits may ripen at the same time.

Candy Bell is a new grape type tomato from Johnny’s that is a determinate type rarely found in grape tomatoes. The downside against the indeterminate is that this with this variety all the fruits may ripen at the same time.

Harvest time for a field run of plum-type tomatoes. Note the variation in shapes, sizes and colors. An interesting sauce or salsa?

Harvest time for a field run of plum-type tomatoes. Note the variation in shapes, sizes and colors. An interesting sauce or salsa?

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: Feb 22, 2024
  • Columnist: Andrew Messinger

Tomatoes are classified by their intended use and by their growth habit. And while your ultimate goal may simply be to eat them, there is much, much more.

It’s important to pay attention to each of these characteristics so you can understand, for example, why your cherry tomato planted at one location in your garden actually ends up fruiting many feet away. (It’s an indeterminate type and continues to set fruit at the end of the vine as it continues to grow.) You’ll also learn why some tomatoes fruit for several weeks then simply stop.

So let’s start with tomatoes grouped by use, which, not coincidentally, is also related to their size. The first group are the currant tomatoes. These are small fruits about the size of a large pea or a wild cherry — currant sized. There are about a dozen varieties in both red and yellow fruit.

The next group are the cherry tomatoes. These are larger than the currant and have been hybridized extensively for uniform shape and flavor.

Next is the cocktail group. This is often the golf ball-sized tomato served as a crudite on vegetable platters. They are also easily sliced when firm and good for use in salads.

Patio tomatoes are about 2 inches in diameter and best suited to be grown on patios and decks where they adapt well to being grown in large pots.

Then there is a large group that includes paste, plum and Roma tomatoes. This group also includes many of the varieties used for sauces and canning. These tend to be oblong fruits with thicker skins than the other varieties. They are used for stewing, sauce, paste, salsa, and drying.

Heirlooms also have to be considered as a group. These are tomatoes that are open pollinated (not hybridized), have been grown for 40 years or longer and include varieties like Brandywine, Striped German and Cherokee Purple, but there are also four or more paste tomatoes that are heirlooms.

Included in the heirlooms are many of the tomatoes that we refer to as the slicers. Slicers are very large tomatoes, and they’re heavy. They can weigh several pounds and when perfectly ripe are easy to slice in the appropriate size for your burger. There are familiar names like beefsteak and mortgage lifter, but there are many others. They are indeterminates, but you may find varieties to be a bit tamer. In any event they all need good (heavy) staking or training on wires.

The two larger groups, which may have several subgroups based on size, are the bush tomatoes and the vine tomatoes. Which brings us to the next consideration. Is the tomato you want to plant an indeterminate type or determinate? And why does it matter?

Determinate (bush) tomatoes are genetically (by nature or man) determined to grow, flower, fruit and stop. No amount of water, sun and fertilizer can make one of these tomatoes continue to fruit once its main season is over. All the bush tomatoes fit into this group. Even though you can find determinates that say they are early-, mid- and late-season, their season as a group is just short of a month. These are the tomatoes that will do well when caged or staked but don’t need to be trained on a wire or trellis. There are no cherry tomatoes that are determinate types.

Indeterminate tomatoes are those that once planted continue to grow, and grow, and grow. The vines can get 15 to 30 feet long, and the root systems are vigorous and spread several feet. Once these tomatoes set flowers and fruit they continue fruiting until the plant dies from frost or disease in the fall. The vines will not bear fruit for the entire length unless carefully pruned. These tomatoes are well suited to being grown on a trellis or on wires like grapes.

Grafted tomatoes came on the scene over a decade ago, and many who planted these were surprised that they fruited late in the season but for a very extended season. Certain determinate tomatoes are grafted onto the root stock of indeterminate tomatoes, and these are called the grafted types. The grafting of the two types results in a tomato with a very vigorous root system and better able to adjust to dry conditions resulting in a more vigorous determinate top that fruits later in the summer and into the fall. Plant yields are also increased.

“On the vine” tomatoes seem to be the current rage at the groceries and markets. Since these remain on the vine until you pick them off at home they can retain their taste and ripen on the vine. There are a number of varieties that are marketed this way, and while they’re easy enough to grow at home, why not simply leave them on the vine (they are all indeterminate) where they ripen the best?

So, to grow tomatoes well one of the things you have to determine is if you have the space for an indeterminate or only the space for a determinate or bush. From there you can move on to discover that there are different colors of tomatoes, different shapes, the already noted different uses and then move on to disease resistance. Keep in mind that this fruit comes in sizes from the tiny currants to the multi-pound beefsteaks and mortgage lifters as well as the green tomatoes that are favorites for pickling and fried green tomatoes.

Diseases have to be discussed when we talk about tomatoes. There are bacterial and viral diseases that affect the shoots, roots and fruits. The good news is that an incredible amount of breeding and hybridizing has been done to combat these diseases, and when you look in the seed catalogs or on the plant tags when you purchase potted or cell-pack plants you’ll see these resistances noted.

A few things to consider here. Heirloom and indeterminate tomatoes offer little to no disease resistance. However, some gardeners prefer the heirlooms because many have retained their good taste while many tomatoes bred for disease resistance seem to lose that old-fashioned tomato flavor.

Tomato diseases can show up on fruits as well as on the foliage. A few can be treated with fungicides, and there are some organic fungicides. There is no easy treatment for viral diseases. Here’s a link to pictures of the more common tomato diseases and what they might look like on your plants: tinyurl.com/339epdub.

There are some very effective ways to reduce the likelihood that diseases will ruin your crop. First, use disease-resistant varieties, but there may be a trade off in some flavor in these hybrids. Second, don’t plant your tomatoes in the same place every year. This is difficult because once you find that magical spot in your garden it’s difficult to switch locations every year as these sweet spots seem to result in better tasting plants.

It’s critical that as best you can, you need to keep the tomato foliage dry. Dripping and splashing water is a guaranteed way to spread these diseases from plant to plant, and when some of these diseases get on the ground, water splashing on the ground can splash the disease organisms back onto the plants. I know one home grower who covers his tomato area with a plastic film as a roof. All his watering is done with a drip system, and his disease issues are next to none.

The next way to protect your tomatoes from diseases is to monitor and manage the insects. Aphids and whitefly can transmit tomato diseases, and both are easily managed with organics. Lose control of these two and it can be virtually guaranteed you’ll have disease issues.

The two tomatoes that I’m trying this year are Johnny’s Strawberry Fields, a new 7-to-10-ounce tomato bred for superior flavor, and Candy Bell, a rare F1 hybrid that’s determinate and requires little to no pruning. In both cases, time and taste will tell.

My last suggestion this week is that if you haven’t gotten a copy of Johnny’s seed catalog, and if you haven’t looked at their online videos on tomato growing then you’re missing an incredible and free resource. You can get the virtual catalog and the videos at johnnyseeds.com. You’ll find the pages and pages of varieties, pictures and descriptions very, very helpful.

But one more thing — tunnel tomatoes. These are varieties that have been developed for commercial growers to grow in plastic hoop houses, which are also known as “high tunnels.” These temporary structures are often open at both ends, but the plastic covering still makes the houses warm up sooner than growing in the ground, and they keep rain and dew off the foliage. And yes, you can set up a “high tunnel” in your garden if you have the space, as little as 8 feet wide and 8 to 10 feet long.

There are many resources you can use in search of the tomato of your dreams. Johnny’s is one great one, as is the Rutgers database of tomatoes that have been tested and evaluated, and many include pictures. You can find these here: njaes.rutgers.edu/tomato-varieties.

OK, you have your homework and a few weeks to read up and get ready. Get your seeds and supplies but don’t start them just yet. Starting these plants extra early only yields leggy plants (there’s a solution for that) that won’t fruit any earlier. Much more next week. Keep growing.

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