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  • Writer's pictureLynda Bevere


Do you want to grow your own tomatoes but are confused by the terminology? Heirloom, determinate, Beefsteak - what does it all mean and where do you start? What are the different types and shapes of tomato plants and which ones should you grow in your garden?

Types of Tomatos

It really is not that complicated and believe me, when you harvest your first homegrown tomato this summer, you will be so thankful. As many a gardener will tell you, tomatoes are the reason they have a vegetable garden. They are absolutely delicious!

So, to ensure success, simply brush up on the following tomato terminology before you head to the plant nursery to pick out your tomato plants. Determine what you want to use the tomatoes for before you go shopping, and if you are not sure, buy a few different types and experiment.

What is an Heirloom Tomato?

An heirloom tomato is an open-pollination plant meaning pollination occurs naturally by bees, butterflies or other pollinators. Heirlooms have been passed down for generations through seed collection and are not hybrids or genetically modified. Non-heirlooms are often bred for traits such as disease resistance or longevity at the expense of taste and thus heirlooms are often considered the most favorable tomatoes. However, heirloom tomatoes are more prone to disease and thus sometimes can be more difficult to grow successfully.

Examples of Popular Heirloom Tomatoes:

Brandywine (my favorite), Mortgage Lifter, Yellow Pear, Rutgers and Amish Paste

Determinate v. Indeterminate Tomatoes

Determinate Tomato Plant Grown in Container

Determinate tomatoes are also known as bush tomatoes. They are usually smaller because they grow for a period of time and then stop. All the fruit sets and ripens near the same time. Determinate tomato plants, because of their smaller size, are a better option if you

need to grow them in containers. They are also good for mass canning or freezing because all the tomatoes are ready to harvest at the same time.

Examples of determinate tomatoes:

Celebrity, Bush Early Girl, Patio Tomato, Better Bush, Mighty Sweet

Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing and produce tomatoes throughout the entire season until it becomes cold. They can get quite large, close to 6 feet tall at times, and thus require a larger growing area and staking to prevent them from falling over. Indeterminate tomatoes are best for those who want to harvest fresh tomatoes every week. Most tomato plants are indeterminate and thus there are many varieties to choose from.

Types of Tomato Shapes and Sizes

1. Cherry: Small, bite-sized tomatoes up to about a golf ball size.

Examples: Sungold, Super Sweet 100

2. Grape: Cherry tomatoes in an oblong shape.

Examples: Napa Grape, Mighty Sweet

Different Shapes of Tomatoes to Grow

3. Plum: Oblong tomatoes that are usually for canning or saucing.

Examples: San Marzano, Roma, Super Sauce

4. Globe or Slicer: Standard grocery store tomato of medium size. Generally round with thicker skin so are more shelf stable.

Examples: Early Girl, Better Boy, Fourth of July

5. Beefsteak: Large slicer tomatoes that are bred for flavor and not for long shelf life. They are often heirloom varieties.

Examples: Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Brandy Boy, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim

6. Pear: A smaller tomato that is shaped like a pear.

Example: Yellow Pear

7. Currant: A very petite tomato that grows in abundance.

Example: Red Currant, Yellow Currant

Growing Tomatoes in a Greenhouse

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