What to Know about Tomatoes Before you Plant some in your Garden
 It's that time of the year to start planning your garden.  Everyone knows how good a fresh out-of-the-garden a tomato tastes (so much better than store bought) that’s why tomatoes are one of the top three favorite things to grow in a home garden.  If you are a tomato “newbie” there are some things you should know BEFORE you start to plant this easy growing fruit.


There are thousands of different varieties of this sumptuous gem, so choosing the “right” tomato for your garden might be a bit confusing. When you are selecting the right tomato you need to ask yourself:

  1. What do you want to do with your bounty?  

  2. How much room do you have to grow them?

  3. How long is your growing season, what zone are you in?

  4. How many pounds/bushels do you want?

  5. Do you want to seed save?


Tomatoes are either determinate or indeterminate and either hybrid, heirloom or organic.  Most of this information can be found on the seed packet, or on the website you are buying your seeds from.


Determinate plants tend to be small bushier types where all of the fruit will ripen around the same time. This type is good for short growing seasons, growing in container gardens, for people that don’t have a lot of space, and for people that want to process the tomatoes after harvesting, like canning, freezing or juicing.  


Indeterminate plants are tall and sometimes leggy plants where the fruit will ripen at different times during the growing season.  Staking this type calls for tall cages or guy-wire type support.   If you have seen tomato plants as tall as houses, chances are those were indeterminate plants.  This type is good for people that live in areas that have a long growing season, commercial growing, and for people that want fresh tomatoes throughout their growing period.  


Hybrid tomatoes are plants that have been specifically bred (cross-pollinated) by scientists to a certain specification to contain traits or characterizations.  Like if a particular tomato is susceptible to blight but produces a lot of tomatoes, it may be cross-pollinated to a variety that is blight resistant, so then you have a prolific tomato that is disease resistant.   If you save seeds from a hybrid variety and try to sprout them, they probably will not grow, most hybrid seeds are sterile and if they do grow they will not grow a plant like the one they came from. So if you want to seed save do not buy hybrid plants.  Hybrids can be either determinate or indeterminate.


Heirloom tomatoes are plants that have been passed down through at least 50 generations. They are also called open-pollinated seeds. Saving and growing seeds from this type will produce an identical plant to the one from which the seeds came.  Heirloom tomatoes often have an “old world” flavor/taste, that gardeners have come to love, and are either determinate or indeterminate.


Organic seeds/plants can be are either determinate or indeterminate, hybrid or heirloom. Being organic simply means that the plants that the seeds in the packet or starter plant came from were grown in accordance with certified organic standards.


Now, within each category there are literally hundreds of varieties, some for sauce, some for slicing, some cherry size, some early producing, some grown for northern or southern climates, some with a lot of meat and less seeds, some with great flavor, some yellow, red or orange, some with stripes, some almost black, and so on….with so many to choose from it can be overwhelming. 


Last year when I was looking for a variety that has great flavor with a lot of meat (I like to put-up whole tomatoes and sauce) and that grows well in a northern zone and ones that I could save the seeds for the next years plantings, I found TomatoFest.com, a great tomato seed company in California that helped me find exactly the type I was looking.  They have over 650 varieties of certified organic heirloom tomato seeds.  Their germination rates were near 100%. Their website has a lot of interesting historical information on each seed type so choosing the right variety is made so much easier.  Plus, with each order, they give you a free packet of tomatoes to try.


I live in growing zone 5, so this morning I planted some tomato seeds I have left over from last year to get a jump start on the season.   I will keep them in the house until out-door planting time, which for me is around Memorial Day.  My mouth is watering already, I may have to open a jar of the canned tomatoes I put-up last year!


If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to comment below or send us a message via e-mail.

Happy Gardening!!

Want to learn more about plants and gardening? See our article about the do's and don'ts of companion planting!

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