Deciding which variety of tomato to plant can be confusing. Examining the punnets available it seems that there is a vast selection designed to confuse and frustrate. The truth is, there are only two types, determinate and indeterminate.
Occasionally you’ll find those two words on the tag poking out of the punnet, but usually the companies mask it by calling them bush tomatoes for the determinate, and then stating that you’ll have to stake the others, the indeterminate.
Within these two types you’ll discover an almost endless array of tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colours. The end result though is that you’ll end up with one of two scenarios when it comes to how you treat your plants.
Firstly let’s tackle the determinate ones. Roma are one variety that we’re all familiar with and you’ll discover that many other determinate varieties are closely related to the good old Roma, San Marzano is a case in point. Many of the cherry tomatoes are determinate as well, but not all of them.
The determinate tomato varieties are excellent for pots, small families and large corporations. They’re called determinate for two reasons. One is that the size of the plant is determined. They simply don’t keep on growing like the vining tomatoes. They may get up to one metre high and the best way to treat them I think, is to mulch really well below them, and let them go. You can truss them a bit and keep the fruit off the ground, but I don’t.
The second reason is that the fruit ripens on them at at determined time, usually all within two/three weeks of the first blush of ripening. Once the fruit is picked, then the plant curls up its toes and dies. This is why the corporations like them for canning, sauce etc. They can plant, nurture, ripen and harvest all to schedule. They’re good for the kids too as they don’t have to nurse them through the inevitable diseases, the fruit is small and low in acid and there’s no trussing required.
Over with the determinates though, life goes on and on, and on until the first frost smacks them down. Go away for a fortnight in summer and you’ll come home to tomato plants so large that they scare the dogs. They’ll have ranged far and wide and some can even grow up to 3.5 metres high. The fruit ripens over a long time frame making these suitable for fresh tomato use as you don’t get a glut of fruit all at once.
They’re good for the kids too as they don’t have to nurse them through the inevitable diseases, the fruit is small and low in acid and there’s no trussing required.
Indeterminate tomato plants are best for those who have a lot of time and vertical space as you’ll need to continue trussing them up. Once they begin to fruit and ripen, the indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and therefore have greater feeding and pest control requirements.
Which to get? If you’re a beginner or want to make sauce, chutney etc, grow determinate as you’ll get all your fruit in a short period, if you want to keep picking until April, go the indeterminate.