Know Your Tomatoes: To find just the right tomato for you, answer these five questions before deciding what tomato varieties to grow.
1. How important is disease resistance? Modern, or hybrid, tomatoes are bred to resist diseases. Heirloom tomatoes, on the other hand, are mostly untouched, and can be more susceptible to diseases.
On the plant tag or seed packet, check the letters after the variety name to see how what diseases and pests they can be resistant to. Look for the V and F since they’re the two most common tomato diseases.
Here are the most common tomato codes to look for in order to protect your plants:
- V = Verticillium Wilt
- F = Fusarium Wilt
- N = Nematodes
- T = Tobacco Mosaic Virus
- A = Alternaria
2. Determinate or indeterminate? Do you want your tomatoes to ripen all at once or all season?
Determinate tomatoes (DET), or bush tomatoes, ripen all at once. Within a week or two, you’ll have one, huge crop of tomatoes. Then, they’re done!
Indeterminate tomatoes (IND), or vine tomatoes, produce tomatoes all season until the first frost.
3. How long is the time to maturity? This number lets you know how long before your tomato seedlings produce their first crop. Some tomatoes mature in 50 days while others take 90 days. Consider how long your growing season is – and when you’d like to bite into that first, homegrown tomato.
4. What flavor and texture do you prefer? The most fun question to answer! Choose acidic or sweet, mealy or meaty and firm or soft skin. Many varieties even list the best uses – sauces, salsa, salads or snacks.
And always remember, feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.
5. What’s the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes?
Heirloom tomatoes come from seeds that have been handed down from farmer to farmer for generations for their special characteristics and varieties must be 50 years old at least. Because of this, heirloom tomatoes have minimal disease resistance. Popular varieties include Black Cherry, Brandywine and Cherokee Purple.
Hybrid tomatoes, sometimes called modern tomatoes, are bred from two different varieties to get the best traits from each parent. Traits can include disease resistance or thick skin. Seeds from hybrid tomato plants are essentially sterile since they’ll never be as strong as the parents. Popular varieties include Roma, Early Girl and Beefsteak.
Grow both hybrids and heirlooms to find out which ones you like eating best.
Visit our Organic Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks on growing tomatoes.