As with other crops, each tomato variety is either a variety bred in modern times (often a hybrid, the offspring of two very different varieties) or a traditional, open-pollinated variety unchanged since WW2 (often called an “heirloom”).
Within each of these two large groups, there are several importantly different types of tomatoes:
1) slicers (large, fairly round tomatoes, often red, with a high water content, for use in sandwiches, etc.),
2) Roma, plum, or paste tomatoes (smaller, oval, with a lower water content, usefulfor drying or making tomato paste), and
3) small, bite-sized tomatoes of varied colors, shapes, and flavors, including yellow pear tomatoes and red cherry or grape tomatoes (good for eating whole, like grapes).
It’s good to know which of these you want before you plant!
Every tomato variety is also either determinate or indeterminate.
Determinate tomato plants grow to a certain size (about 1.2-1.5 m) and then stop growing.
All of their fruit becomes ripe in a short time window, usually about 2 weeks, and then the plants begin to die, producing no additional fruit.
Indeterminate tomato plants, by contrast, grow from the time you plant them until they are killed by frost, and can reach heights of 2-3 m if they are supported.
They produce and ripen new fruit steadily until frost.
Both indeterminate and determinate tomatoes need to be caged or staked, even so-called “dwarf” varieties.
Most (but not all) modern hybrid varieties are determinate, including most large red slicing tomatoes and most Roma or “paste” tomatoes.
Most (but not all) traditional or “heirloom” varieties are indeterminate.
Most (but not all) cherry tomatoes are indeterminate and can grow very, very tall.
Before you plant a tomato, find out it if it is indeterminate or determinate!
Many people are disappointed when their determinate tomato plants die in May or early June, even though it’s completely natural.
Information about tomato planting dates
Tomatoes have no frost tolerance and must be protected carefully if they are planted while there is still risk of frost.
It’s safest to wait until all risk of frost has passed before planting tomatoes.
Many growers plant a first planting of determinate tomatoes as early as possible, then put in a second planting of indeterminate tomatoes 4 to 6 weeks later.
The determinate tomatoes will yield a large amount of fruit quickly (good for summer canning, freezing, and eating), after which they stop producing and can be removed to make space for other crops. The indeterminate tomatoes
start producing soon after and keep going until frost.
Tomato seed is probably the easiest seed for a gardener to germinate and it is not unusual for gardeners to base their gardening confidence on success with this fruit.
Some insist that the seeds need to be soaked before planting but this is unnecessary and it is highly possible to damage seed when taking it from a soft submersive environment to a coarse soil one.
Sowing in soil, fill your pot, tamp it down lightly, spread your seed, sprinkle seed raise mix over the seed to cover it, water gently and then leave them alone to do what they do best.
Preparing for planting
Tomatoes must be planted in full sun—they don’t like shade at all! Like most vegetables, tomatoes do best in relatively loose soil rich in organic matter.
If you don’t have soil like this, you’ll want to work in some compost, composted manure, or another soil amendment a week or more before planting into the bed(s) where your tomatoes will be planted.
Many growers use plastic mulch for their tomatoes because the plastic can increase yields, reduce disease, and give you an earlier crop with little or no weeding. You do not need to use plastic to have healthy, productive tomatoes,
but if you don’t you will want to mulch with something else (leaves, straw, cardboard, etc.) to prevent weed problems.
On the day of planting, you should have some tools (a trowel and a hose connected to water), and some organic fertilizer handy.
It’s tempting to plant tomatoes too close together because they’re small when you transplant them.
If you do this, your plants will compete with each other for light, water, and nutrients and/or grow into each other such that harvesting is difficult.
Most tomato varieties should be planted at least 60 cm apart, and 90 cm is better. Cherry tomatoes should be planted 1.2m apart.
Care after planting Once your tomatoes are planted, they don’t need much care besides caging or staking and perhaps occasional watering.
If you have used plastic mulch, you may not need to weed at all. If you haven’t, you will want to weed around them thoroughly until mid-November and then mulch.
All tomatoes should be caged or staked and tied beginning shortly after transplanting. Cages are simplest and work well, but ONLY IF you buy or make cages that are tall enough and strong enough to hold up a
mature tomato plant.
The short, narrow wire style (about 60 cm tall, with three little pieces you stick into the ground) sold in many garden supply stores are completely useless for most common tomatoes.
Though you can buy good cages, the best cages are homemade wire cages made of concrete reinforcing wire or woven-wire stock fencing. If made properly, these can be used for many years (and you can store them in the garden over the winter).