Tomatoes are the number one vegetable that people grow, but if you are looking for seeds to buy to start your own plants, or even picking up plants at a local garden center you may get confused with the various descriptive terms used on tomatoes. To make your selection easier here is some tomato terminology and what it means.
Determinate and indeterminate – An indeterminate tomato keeps growing and setting fruit until frost kills it. A determinate tomato tends to set and ripen its fruit all at one time. Most garden varieties of tomatoes are indeterminate but if you can tomatoes you may want to choose a determinate variety so you have a concentrated harvest. Determinate tomatoes are shorter and bushier and can be better for container growing too.
Potato leaf tomato- many species of tomato went into producing today’s varieties of tomatoes. Some of those had a leaf shaped more like a potato leaf and some of the new varieties of tomato retain that shape. It does not affect the plants growth qualities or taste of the fruit.
Paste tomatoes have thicker “meat” portions of the fruit and tend to be less juicy. They are usually cooking tomatoes, used for sauces and paste. Many are oblong or teardrop shaped. They are good for eating too. Oxheart tomatoes are larger meaty tomatoes, usually of European origin.
Cherry, grape, and currant tomatoes are all types of small tomatoes that grow in clusters. Currant tomatoes are the smallest, very tiny 1 bite tomatoes. Cherry and grape tomatoes are essentially the same.
Salad tomatoes usually refer to smaller smooth round tomatoes. Beefsteak can be a variety name or refer to tomatoes which are very large often with an oblong, flattened shape.
Tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, depending on variety. Some are smooth and round; others have ridges or what appear to be segments joined together. There are also hollow tomatoes, which look like a pepper inside. There are pear shaped tomatoes and very flattened oval shaped tomatoes.
Tomatoes also come in many colors, even though red remains the favorite. Colors can be white, yellow, pink, orange, green, purple, brown, and striped. Tomatoes also vary in taste, a tomato ripened in the sun always tastes better than one ripened in the store but the taste of tomatoes can range from sweet, non-acidic to very acidic and “robust”. Taste is subjective and growing conditions can affect how a tomato tastes also. Heirloom tomatoes don’t always taste better than modern hybrids; try many varieties of tomatoes to see what you like.
What do the letters in the name mean?
The letters behind the variety name of some tomatoes indicates they have resistance (not immunity) to certain diseases. Not all tomatoes will have these letters. V=verticillium wilt, F = fusarium wilt- there can be 3 F’s indicating the 3 strains of fusarium wilt that infect tomatoes, N=nematodes, T = tobacco mosaic virus, A = alternaria stem canker, St= stemphylium gray leaf spot, TSWV=tomato spotted wilt virus. There are a few tomatoes that are resistant to late or early blight. If so that information is generally provided in the description. If you have lots of disease problems look for the varieties with the most letters after their name.
Indigo series tomatoes are a strain of tomatoes developed to have more anthocyanin, the blue pigment that is supposed to be so healthy for us. Indigo tomatoes are a deep purple almost black with red highlights. There are several varieties and sizes. These are a bit different from older varieties of “black” or chocolate tomatoes. They were developed with conventional breeding and are not GMO.
Grafted tomatoes are becoming popular. These combine a disease resistant, hardy root stock (bottom portion) with a fruiting or top portion that may lack those traits. Many times a heritage tomato is the top part. One note on grafted tomatoes, don’t buy a tomato grafted on a potato unless you just want a novelty. Despite the promises of both a tomato and potato crop, in reality neither crop grows well like this.
When choosing your tomato varieties you may want to look into what part of the country the variety is said to do best in. Some perform better in the north; others have a very long maturation rate and do better in the south. Check the tag or description for days to maturity. In tomatoes that starts when you transplant them into the garden. You should see such information offered in the catalog or tag description. Early varieties ripen in 55-70 days, medium varieties 70-90 days and late varieties more than 90 days. Many modern hybrids are bred to do well all over the country, whereas many heirlooms tend to do better in specific areas where they originated.
You can ask other gardeners in your area what tomatoes grow well for them. Grow several varieties and keep records on whether you liked the taste of each and how each produced for you. Each year try something new, but make sure to plant some of your tried and true favorites. Tomatoes that do well in Michigan include Early Girl, Better Boy, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Goliath, Big Beef, Bonnie Best, Rutgers and Delicious.
Don’t let terminology confuse you and stop you from growing tomatoes. No matter what you choose your home grown tomatoes will taste better than store purchased ones and you’ll have fun growing them.
Here are some additional articles you may want to read.
The difference between leeks, onions, scallions and ramps.
When to start seeds indoors.
Planting times for garden crops