Many people’s introduction to the garden is with a tomato plant. It is a staple in the garden for both new and experienced gardeners and for a good reason. The fruit of the tomato plant is a rich, sweet, and classic flavor that you’ll never forget. The tomato flavor of different fruits may change, depending on the variety, where it is grown and the magic hands of the gardener growing it. But at the end of the day, you’ll never want to stop growing and experimenting with all the different types of tomatoes there are to choose from. Each year brings new varieties, and old heirlooms rediscovered in the gardens of some of our more seasoned friends.
How to choose when there are so many types of tomatoes? The choice may seem overwhelming! To make it simpler, it’s easiest to think about how you imagine using your tomatoes once harvested. Will you be throwing them into a salad? Do you want one with a longer shelf life? Do you want to wow your friends with exotic fruits? Is there a toddler in your home that could eat cherry tomatoes by the bucket load and without argument? Are you a canner or a prepper looking to add these wonderful fruits to your shelves after processing? Maybe you want to save the seeds? There are so many options it can certainly seem a little overwhelming.
In order to better understand what tomatoes to seek out at the start of your growing season, which heirloom varieties to track down, and which hybrids to purchase, we’re going to break down a few types of tomatoes to give you a better understanding of what’s out there.
Maybe you want plants that won’t overwhelm your raised bed and grow all over the place. In that case, you’ll want a determinate tomato, as opposed to an indeterminate which just won’t stop getting bigger. Maybe, you’re after some tomatoes to make your famous BLT and some more to make your grandmother’s pisata. In that case, you’ll want to find a slicing tomato and a few paste tomatoes. What if you live in a cooler part of the world and you’re pessimistic about growing tomatoes at all? Give cool summer tomatoes a try.
There are so many tomato varieties out there that with a little research you can find the varieties that are right for both your growing season and kitchen. Packed with a mountain of vitamin c, these fruits are popular for a reason!
Tomato Growing Habits
It’s not just tomatoes that come in all shapes and sizes, but the actual tomato vine as well! Tomato vines can be broken down into two main types of growing habits: determinate or indeterminate growth.
If you’re trying to figure out which type to choose, determinate or indeterminate, think about your growing needs. Do you need tomatoes throughout the summer to pop into salads or eat on their own? Or are you growing a bunch of tomatoes to can for the winter? Or to make tomato paste or dried tomatoes? Your needs in the kitchen can often determine which types you’ll want to grow.
A determinate tomato is genetically predetermined to not only have tomatoes that grow a certain way but also vines that reach a certain height. These are the better-behaved tomatoes and will grow and produce without completely taking over your yard. Determinate tomatoes are characterized by their rapid growth and by producing harvests that generally come all at once. Many of these tomatoes will grow to 4-6 feet, and then over a 4-5 week period will produce all of the tomatoes that they’ll ever produce.
Determinate tomatoes are not quite as needy as their indeterminate cousins, and you’ll find that they don’t need quite as much staking if any at all. Because of this, they’re great for growing in containers (like the Air Pots we have in our online store) or in raised beds, especially raised beds that are more than a couple of feet off the ground.
Pruning and taking care of determinate tomatoes is pretty straightforward but there are few things you’ll need to keep in mind. Determinate tomatoes grow to their full height first, and then begin to fill out their lateral growth. Don’t worry if its growing habit looks completely different from others you have in the garden! This tomato knows what it’s doing! That being said, be careful not to top-prune this tomato as it won’t recover.
Determinate tomatoes are a great choice for gardeners who plan on doing a lot of preserving as it gives you most of the harvest all at once. You can succession plant your tomatoes to get a few large harvests throughout the summer to maximize your garden and space out your preserving sessions.
Galahad is an early determinate juicy beefsteak tomato variety that is great for eating raw or canning. It has a classic bright red color and is the size of a young adults fist.
Dads Sunset is a deliciously sweet plump orange tomato with somewhat large fruits. It’s great for eating raw or in sauces.
Indeterminate tomatoes are the little train that could. Even though they start out as a tiny little seed, the plant that they grow into will basically keep growing until it stops. These are the unruly tomatoes that you’ll have to invest some money into staking or trellising.
Indeterminate tomatoes take a little longer to produce fruits but will keep growing and producing until they are physically stopped, whether by lack of water, space, or warm temperatures. Almost all indeterminate tomatoes will sprout a large number of suckers too. Each sucker is a lateral growth on the tomato that appears in between a leaf branch, and the main stem. Be sure to pluck these off once they’ve set their first two leaves or else it will slow down the plant’s tomato production. Each sucker is determined to create its own whole new tomato plant so keep an eye out for these little guys! They won’t stay little for long.
Indeterminate tomatoes are great for growers who want to have tomatoes all summer long. Once mature they will produce continuously. For a larger harvest, try and keep two main stems with lots of foliage (but not a lot of suckers) so that the plant can take in as much sun as possible.
Sun Gold tomatoes are prolific orange cherry tomatoes that have a wonderfully sweet and tart taste. They are grown on long stems of 10+ tomatoes and are great eaten raw or in sauce.
New Girl tomatoes are an early producer and grow masses of golf ball sized tomatoes in clusters. With good disease resistance and the ability to grow earlier than many other varieties, this bright red tomato is a great addition to the garden.
Types Of Tomatoes By Use
Depending on how you plan on eating your tomatoes, you’ll want to buy different varieties. Tomatoes are eaten raw in salads, stuffed with cheese and basil and served as a novel party treat, turned into sauce for pasta or even used as a novelty crop to catch the eye. How you plan on using tomatoes will tell you what kind of plants to seek out.
Early Tomatoes and Cool Summer Tomatoes
Early tomatoes are biologically different tomato varieties. Naturalized in areas of the world with strong winters and cooler summers, these tomatoes will set fruit at lower night temperatures than most others. They will also rippen without hot summer days, managing to produce full crops of tomatoes on the vine like any other type of tomato.
Quick Pick is an indeterminate and quick bearing paste tomato. Great for it’s disease resistance and flavor, this pick will bring in quite a large harvest.
Burpees Early Pick is another fast bearing moderately sized beefsteak tomato. It produces clusters of these tomatoes while resisting disease and continuing to produce throughout summer.
The Early Girl tomato is one of the more famous early tomatoes. A very popular hybrid, this tomato is commonly found at most nurseries in the spring and bears a deep red medium-sized tomato.
Slicer tomatoes are a great choice for sandwiches and the ever famous caprese salad. A large firm type of tomato, these are generally heirloom tomatoes like the cherokee purple or pantano romanesco, both beef tomatoes. These varieties can be either determinant or indeterminate types. They’re good as sandwich tomatoes, and can be used in salsas & salads but also work well on burgers. Often fairly small and firm fleshed, they’re generally a medium-sized beefsteak tomato and may have fewer seeds and juice than salad & salsa tomatoes.
Growing tomatoes for salsa or salad means that you’re after a sweet and juicy tomato. This can range from a small plum tomato, to larger heirloom tomatoes that you’ll need several friends to help you eat all of. For these, try looking for juicy heirloom tomato varieties like the classics Brandywine or Cherokee Purple. These are both juicy and red full sized tomatoes that bring a lot of sweetness to anything they’re added to. Generally, you’re after a tomato with a thin skin – this means that it’s pretty juicy inside.
The Brandywine Tomato is a classic red beefsteak tomato with an even amount of seeds to meaty flesh.
The Cherokee Purple has a purple skin, but the red insides of a beefsteak tomato.
The Pantano Romanesco is an heirloom tomato with a meaty interior and slightly ribbed exterior. With a bright red flesh, this is truly a classic.
The Black Krim Tomato is an open pollinated indeterminate beefsteak tomato naturalized between Russia and the Ukraine and grows medium large globed shaped fruits.
The Organic Lucid Gem tomato are purple on top with red and orange bottoms. The insides of these lusciously flavored tomatoes are almost tie-dyed!
Cherry and grape tomatoes come in a pretty wide range these days. From the classically small Supersweet 100, or Chadwick’s Cherry on long delicate stems with 20+ tomatoes to the new and exotic Brad’s Atomic Grape, a striped grape tomato that can turn a purple color due to the presence of anthoniacin. There is also the ever flavorful Yellow Pear Tomato which, as its name suggests grows in the shape of a pear and is a cheery yellow color.
Cherry and grape tomatoes are great for snacking, adding to meals raw or cooked, or even cooked into sauces (although that can be a little labor-intensive). These are a great addition to the garden for new gardeners and children. The ever-bearing nature of these plants can really hook people into the rewards of gardening. Cherry tomatoes themselves are often sweeter than other tomatoes; almost like a burst of sugar when you bite into them. They’re the candy of the tomato world.
In recent years, novel tomatoes have become all the rage. Grown for their colors, their stripes, their ribbing, or even the tiny size of the tomato plant, these plants show a great range in diversity that keeps wowing us year after year. Many of these tomatoes are probably not what you’ll grow for your canning or salads, but simply to bring joy and interest into the garden. While it’s always great to experiment with new tomatoes, don’t forget to add both something novel and a tried and true tomato to your garden for optimal harvests.
The Orange Accordion Tomato is a stunningly large and ribbed orange meaty tomato that looks much like an accordion.
The Green Zebra Tomato is a true green tomato that stays green even when ripe.
The Reisetomato is truly the oddest tomato this writer has ever seen. Looking like clusters of small oddly shaped tomatoes smashed together, this is certainly a conversation starter at a garden party.
The Black Beauty Tomato is a regular big beef tomato with a twist. Its skin is a uniform deep purple almost black color and has a regular deep red flesh. This fruit is sure to turn heads in the garden!
You’ll find that paste tomatoes are quite versatile and commonly found in the grocery store. Due to their meatier flesh and high flesh-to seed ratio, this tomato ships well and is rather sturdy. This large category includes the famous roma tomatoes and other plum tomatoes. One of the famous types include the San Marzano, known worldwide as the right tomato for pasta sauce made by Italian grannies and their disciples. Another variety, the Amish Paste Tomato is well known by US growers, an underwhelming red color with green spots near the stem; this tomato nonetheless is a powerhouse for sauce and paste making with a meaty interior and a deep tomato flavor.
Great in sauces and for tomato paste, this classic tomato is the workhorse of the tomato world. For growers interested in preserving their harvest, try growing determinate paste tomatoes to concentrate the harvest in a shorter harvest window. Smaller and sturdier bushes will also aid in rapid picking to ease processing.
The New Jersey Devil tomato is a paste type of tomato with a very meaty flesh and 5-6 inch fruits. A tomato variety that has been used to hybridize other tomatoes, this heirloom tomato is widely known to produce wonderful yields in the shape of large plum tomatoes.
One of the more interesting tomatoes to be hybridized over the years is a stuffing tomato! A hollow tomato shaped much like a bell pepper, the stuffing tomato is mostly flesh with little juice and seeds to scoop out. What seeds are in the tomato are concentrated in the center of the flesh and are easily removed. Stuffing tomatoes include varieties such as the Get Stuffed tomato, a beautiful red and gold striped tomato to make any guest gasp in surprise, and the Red Rosso Sicilian Tomato, of Sicilian descent with ribbed sides and a wider base.
Types of Tomatoes by Growing Area
The growing area you have available for your tomatoes can play a large role in which tomatoes to choose. But fear not, you can grow tomatoes on a window sill or a farm! No matter your situation, there is a tomato that is right for you!
Growing in-ground gives you the largest number of options. Determinate to indeterminate tomatoes, rows of beefsteak tomatoes held up with their classical wooden posts, or rows of cherry tomatoes held up by a Florida Weave trellis. While growing in-ground is most people’s first choice, it is of course dependent on the right soil and weather conditions.
If your soil and weather conditions are perfect for growing tomatoes, you can grow several varieties together, as long as their growing habits are similar. Any of the varieties mentioned in this article (with the exception of the micro tomatoes) are perfect for this growing area.
Growing in Raised Beds
If growing in raised beds, you will likely have the most luck with determinate tomatoes. Unless the raised bed is just a few inches off the ground, you may find that the tomatoes quickly outgrow a trellis and become hard to reach if you’re growing a determinate variety.
Try growing Celebrity, Mountain Fresh, Florida 47, or the Orange Blossom for beefsteak types. Or, determinate Roma Tomatoes, Plum Dandy, or a determinate San Marzano for plum tomatoes.
Growing in Containers
A potted tomato is often a first-time growing experience. Try getting a large container; about 3-5 gallons capacity and filling it with well-draining potting soil. A tomato grown in these conditions should be a determinate variety, preferably bred to not get too large. Try Tidy Treats, a plant that produces long stems of red cherry tomatoes on a compact vine that will grow to 3-5 ft. Alternatively, seek out Terenzo F1, another compact cherry tomato plant that can even be grown in a hanging planter. For beefsteak tomatoes grown in a pot, try searching out the Floramerica tomato, a red-fleshed hybrid with a wonderful tomato taste that’s perfect in a salad. An Italian plum type tomato the Plum Regal is great for salsas and canning alike.
Growing on a Window Sill or Window Ledge
Gardeners with but a sunny windowsill in search of the perfect tomato plant may find that the micro varieties are just what they’ve been looking for.
Micro Tom Tomato and Orange Hat Tomatoes are both novel micro tomatoes with vines reaching their full height at between 6-9 inches. You read that right… INCHES! These tiny vines will live their whole lives, fruit, and die in a small pint-sized pot. The Micro Tom produces bite-sized deep red cherry tomatoes while the Orange Hat produces a rich orange cherry tomato that is incredibly sweet. Difficult to find as seedlings, try searching for their seeds in an online catalog.
Tomatoes by Disease Resistance
Tomatoes are ubiquitous throughout the world, filling up fields to grow enough marinara for the billions who eat pasta. There are different types of tomatoes all over the world, with different types of tomatoes adapting to different regions and naturalizing to the point that they become their own tomato varieties.
With this complete world takeover by the industrious tomato comes several diseases which have found the tomato a wonderful host to their various families. While certain tomato varieties are bred to do better in certain climates; others are bred for their natural disease resistance. So prevalent is this need for disease resistance that even tomatoes at your local nursery are likely to have this disease resistance specifically selected for. Here is a simple code to understand what all that information on your tomato tag means:
- A – Alternaria – early Blight Stem canker
- VFN – Verticillium Wilt, Fusarium Wilt & Root-knot nematodes
- T – Tobacco mosaic virus
- VF – Verticillium & Fusarium wilts
- FF – Fusarium races 1& 2
- FFF – Fusarium races 1, 2, 3
- ST – Stemphylium, gray leaf spot