When you think about starting a garden, almost everyone wants to grow tomatoes. But how do you know what kinds of tomatoes to grow? This post will help you choose the best tomato varieties for your garden.
Classifications of Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be classified many ways.
- open-pollinated, hybrid, heirloom
- determinate, indeterminate
- grape, cherry, pear, paste, slicer
- disease resistance
- even the area they are best grown in
Of course, each tomato will fall under more than one of these categories. Let’s learn what each of these terms mean so you can choose what varieties of tomatoes will grow best in your area.
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Open-Pollinated, Hybrid, & Heirloom Tomatoes
Open pollinated seeds are seeds that will produce plants genetically similar to the parent plant. You can save seeds from these open pollinated tomatoes each year. When you plant the seeds the following year, you should get a tomato just like what you harvested the previous year.
Hybrid plants are created when two open-pollinated varieties are crossed to form a new variety of the same plant. (Note: This is not the same as GMO!!!) While the seeds of hybrid tomatoes can be saved, they may or may not produce the same looking tomato the next year. Actually, the majority of the time they will produce an inferior product.
Many beginning gardeners will likely have more success growing hybrid tomatoes. They are often more prolific than their open pollinated counterparts. They tend to have been bred with some disease resistance which means your plants are less likely to succumb to blight or wilt.
Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation. Some seed companies have decided on a set number of years the variety has been around to be to be considered a heirloom. Others base the designation on just the history of the variety.
For more information read: Hybrid vs. open-pollinated seeds
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Determinate varieties of tomatoes have fruits that ripen all at the same time. This doesn’t mean they will all ripen on the same day, rather that most will ripen within a 2 week period. This is a great kind of tomato to grow if you do a lot of preserving. You can get your entire canning session done in just a few weeks.
Indeterminate varieties will produce all season long. If you want to EAT tomatoes all summer, I definitely recommend growing at least one indeterminate tomato. So if your garden only has room for one or two tomato plants, choose varieties that are indeterminate.
Indeterminate types should really be caged or trellised or staked for optimum production.
Grape, Cherry, Pear, Paste, and Slicer – What’s the Difference?
Grape, cherry, and pear tomatoes are all similar. They are the smaller tomatoes that you can eat whole. There is such a range of color and flavor that it can be fun to plant several varieties if you have room. Most varieties are very prolific so even one plant is enough for most family’s needs. (I always feed the extras to my chickens.)
Paste tomatoes are the best type for canning. While you can certainly preserve other types, paste tomatoes have fewer seeds and meatier flesh (less water) so they take less time to cook down or to dehydrate.
Slicer tomatoes are the ones that are usually served on burgers or sandwiches or just eaten by the slice. There are many heirloom varieties that people swear by but if you ask 5 different people their favorite variety, you will probably get 5 different answers.
There are also many hybrid slicers that are bred to be more uniform or have good disease resistance so don’t rule them out either.
Many varieties of tomatoes have different abilities to resist various diseases. If you look a seed catalog, all those extra letters after each variety’s name tell what disease the tomato is resistant to.
If a problem plagues your area growing disease resistant tomatoes may be the solution. Check with your agricultural extension office or local gardeners and farmers to learn what diseases to be on the lookout for.
While many people frown on growing these types because most are hybrid, a hybrid homegrown tomato will still taste better than any store-bought tomato! And a hybrid homegrown tomato is better than spending time growing tomato plants only to have them succumb to disease.
Where Do You Live?
There are tomato varieties that grow best in different parts of the country. What works for me in North Carolina, may not work well for someone who lives in a rainier climate like Seattle.
Different kinds of tomatoes grow better in cool climates than dry, hot climates. If you have a warm humid summer, you will likely need different types of tomatoes than if you have a short growing season.
One way to find what kinds of tomatoes you should grow is to visit your local garden center. They will probably only carry tomato types that do well in your area. The only problem with this is that they have a very limited variety.
However, the best way to know what types of tomatoes to grow is to ask your gardening friends and neighbors. They can tell you the flavor profiles of different kinds and give you growing information that pertains to your area. And sometimes, if your gardening friends have extra tomato plants (I know I always do!) they may give you some of their extras for free.
Different colors of tomatoes
Finally, there are many different colors of tomatoes. Of course there are red ones. You’ve probably seen the yellow ones too. But did you know tomatoes come in pink, purple, orange, green, bi-color, and even blue! Yes, blue tomatoes! (Check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds for seeds and pictures. While you’re there, take a look at all the multi-colored tomatoes too. So pretty.)
Many Great Types
So, while there are many wonderful types of tomatoes, there are many variables to choosing the best kinds of tomatoes for you to grow. However, if you have a bit of room, feel free to experiment. Try a new-to-you variety this year. You just might discover a family favorite!