Understanding Tomato Varieties

May 15, 2024

There’s a large variety of tomato types to choose from, each with their own unique characteristics. With such a wide array of sizes, flavors, colors, and uses, how do you pick the right ones for your garden and plate? Let’s dive in!
Tomato Plant Sizes
         Are you working with a large garden or a cozy porch? Your space considerations can guide your tomato plant selection.
Indeterminate versus Determinate: Don’t let the terms confuse you. Indeterminate varieties, like Chocolate Sprinkles and Mr. Stripey, grow continuously, reaching impressive heights of 8 to 10 feet. They’re perfect for spacious gardens but require ample support. On the other hand, determinate types such as Better Bush, Celebrity, and Roma have a set height, making them ideal for compact spaces like balconies. They also offer a concentrated fruit yield, perfect for preserving the harvest.
         Look out for “dwarf” or “compact” varieties like Sweet ‘n Neat and Tumbling Tom, which can be either determinate or indeterminate. They only grow about 2 to 3 feet high, making them suitable for containers and hanging baskets.
Hybrid Versus Heirloom
         Once you’ve sorted out your space needs, consider whether you prefer hybrid or heirloom plants, or a mix of both.
         Hybrids: These plants are the result of deliberate crossbreeding, combining the best traits of different parent plants. They often boast enhanced disease resistance, yield, or growth habits. Some popular hybrids include Sun Gold, Better Boy, and Juliet.
         Heirlooms: These varieties, like Cherokee Purple and Arkansas Traveler, have been passed down through generations, offering a rich history and unique flavors. They rely on natural pollination and are at least 50 years old.
Tomato Uses:
         Your intended culinary uses should also influence your tomato choices, such as whether you plan to toss them in your salad, layer them in a sandwich, or turn them into a sweet spaghetti sauce.
         Salad/Snacking: Opt for bite-sized cherry or grape tomatoes such as Sweet Million and Sun Sugar, which are perfect for salads, kebabs, or snacking.
         Slicing: Medium to extra-large, juicy tomatoes like Red Beefsteak and German Johnson are ideal for sandwiches. There are also more moderately sized varieties such as Rutgers and Early Girl.
Sauce/Paste: Meaty and dense, varieties like Roma and San Marzano excel in sauces and pastes.
Tomato Colors and Flavors:
         Tomatoes come in a spectrum of colors, each offering unique flavor profiles.
         Pink: Pink tomatoes, like Arkansas Traveler and Pink Girl, have a classic, old-fashioned tomato taste with a balanced blend of acid and sugar.
         Red: Seen in varieties such as Bonnie Centennial and Super Fantastic, red tomatoes have a robust and slightly acidic flavor reminiscent of traditional tomatoes.
         Black/Purple: Earthy and complex flavors characterize varieties like Black Cherry and Cherokee Purple.
         Orange/Yellow: Bright and mild flavors are typical in Golden Jubilee and Lemon Boy tomatoes.
Whether you choose heirloom or hybrid, indeterminate or determinate, purple, orange, or red, your summer is sure to be filled with delicious tomatoes. Still unsure which variety is right for you? Consult our garden experts at Co-op for recommendations on tomatoes and other plants for your garden. Plus, stock up on all your outdoor and gardening essentials for a successful season! Find your nearest Co-op location here.
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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