Monday, August 29, 2011

Picking the Right Tomato for your Garden

Could you imagine where the pizza industry would be today without tomato sauce? The top two condiments in the United States, ketchup and salsa, are tomato-based. It is safe to say that the tomato is an all-American culinary entity, a piece of Americana sharing ranks with apple pie, maple syrup, and that staple of staples, good ole corn. We've become very familiar with the pale, mild-flavored hybrid tomatoes in the supermarkets, the thick canned pastes, and those cute little cherries at your local salad bar. But, for those of us who really love tomatoes, and are looking for something a little more unique or very specific, we grow our own. I am going to attempt to briefly cover the basics of tomato varieties that gardeners should be familiar with.

Determinate vs. Indeterminate

Many growers have heard these terms applied to a few different fruits. These words refer to the specific plant's fruit production habit.

Determinate tomato varieties produce one large crop and then produce little or no fruit for the rest of the season. They are usually shorter than indeterminate varieties and have a fixed height. So, there is no need to stake them. These are often paste or plum tomato varieties.

Indeterminate or the vining varieties are going to be the most common variety for home gardening. They produce a continuous crop all summer until frost, and then they will start to die back.
Tomato Varieties

Your standard or slicing tomatoes are the common medium-sized round tomatoes. These will most often be used in soups or sliced for salads. You've seen these in six-pack trays at your local supermarket.

Beef Steak are big tomatoes, some up to 2 pounds. These are the ones that, when sliced, fit sandwiches and burgers very nicely. Beef Steak varieties are also great for stuffing and baking. They are rarely found in supermarkets because their size and tenderness makes them more trouble than they are worth for big retailers. However, they are a home garden dream, a big tasty return on the simple investment in a tiny packet of seeds. Some popular cultivars of this variety are 'Better Boy', 'Big Beef', and 'Park's Whopper'.

Cherry tomatoes are very small tomatoes, ranging from barely bigger than your finger tip to the size of a golf ball. They are often very sweet and perfect by themselves just as a snack. They are the sublime salad tomato because they add lots of flavor, and you don't have to slice them. The elongated smaller and sweeter grape tomatoes are also a tasty variation of the cherry tomato. Cherry tomato plants produce a large amount of fruit, so you don't have to plant many to get plenty of tomatoes.

Paste or plum tomatoes are, as the name suggests, often used for canning and sauces. They work well for this because they are less juicy than other varieties, they don't have a core, and they have far less seeds than other varieties. They are usually small and slightly elongated or pear-shaped. They are often lumped together as Roma tomatoes, which is actually just one cultivar of this tomato variety.

Choose Your Tomato Wisely

Breeders have had fun with this popular garden plant. They come in all sizes and colors, from pink and striped to almost black. But, the best way to pick your tomato is to grow for your needs. If you want sandwich tomatoes, grow Beef Steaks. If you love tomatoes in your salad, try some different cherry varieties. If your garden is the source for most of your canned goods, you should probably try to grow a few paste tomatoes. Growing your own tomatoes will give you power over selection and power over growing methods. It is cheaper than than buying them at the supermarket, and it can be much more rewarding. Have a good time in your garden, and grow the tomato that's just right for you.

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