When it comes to the edible garden, tomatoes are at the top of the list as the most popular “vegetable” planted. There are over ten thousand varieties of tomatoes. How does one decipher the different growth rates, sizes and flavors of all those tomatoes? Let’s talk tomatoes and break down some tomato basics to help decide what tomatoes are best suited for your garden and your palate.
Tomato Fun Facts
- Tomatoes are a fruit.
- They are not always red.
- Have been grown in space.
- Packed with vitamins A, C, calcium and potassium.
- The largest tomato ever grown weighed in at a little over ten pounds!
- The average American consumes thirty one pounds of tomatoes a year.
When and Where
Tomatoes are a warm season edible, best planted when soil and air temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees. They love the sunshine and will not tolerate a frost. In Minnesota, Memorial Day usually marks the “safe date” to plant warm season edibles. When planting tomatoes, chose a location that receives at least eight hours of sunlight and is protected from damaging winds. Give your plants some space and support, some varieties of tomatoes can get huge and quickly crowd out other plants. An old farmer’s tip is to plant your tomatoes deep so that the bottom leaves are just above the surface of the soil. Tomatoes have the ability to grow roots from their stems, this trick-of-the-trade helps to develop a stronger stem and deeper roots.
Determinate vs indeterminate
One of the first bits of information found on a tomato tag is whether the plant is determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes generally grow to a specific height and set all their fruit at once. Determinate tomato plants are best suited for small spaces, patio containers and will only produce one round of fruit in a season. Indeterminate tomatoes, often referred to as vining tomatoes have no limit to their growth and will continue to grow and fruit until frost.
Heirloom vs Hybrid
Heirloom tomatoes are tomatoes grown from seeds handed down for generations without any human intervention. They are tomatoes in their purest form, boasting the greatest range of colors and flavors. A seasoned gardener would tell you, nothing beats the taste of an heirloom tomato and it’s true! Hybrid tomatoes are developed by cross-pollinating different tomato varieties to combine the best traits of each parent plant. Hybrid tomatoes have been bred to be easier to grow, produce more consistent fruit, and have greater resistance to disease.
Slicers, Dicers and Salad
Whether you are looking for an eat-off-the vine tomato, a slicer for sandwiches or a dicer for salsas, below is a simple break down of tomato types.
- Beefsteak – These are the big boys, perfect for slicing and excellent for stews, sauces and salsa. Beefsteak tomatoes are large, meaty and juicy with a mild flavor.
- Cherry – Candy on a vine. Cherry tomatoes are small, with a delicious pop of sweet flavor that are wonderful raw off the vine or sauteed.
- Cocktail – Medium sized tomatoes that are more meaty than juicy. These tomatoes have a sweet taste and do well with heat, making them the best tomatoes for grilling or stuffed tomatoes.
- Grape – Small sized tomatoes that are crisp and crunchy. They come in a range of colors and flavors from sweet to tangy, delicious on their own or in a salad.
- Roma – A midsize, oval shaped tomato with a tangy, garden-fresh taste. These tomatoes are ideal to make stews, sauces and tomato paste.