Frugal Gardening: Tomato Plants…Which Tomatoes Do I Plant? Determinate or Indeterminate?

We love getting that first tomato out of the garden…..what a treat!  There is nothing as good as a ripe, juicy tomato with some good bacon, crisp lettuce and Mayonnaise on some great toast.  Not to mention all the other great ways to eat tomatoes. So we really try to keep tomatoes going until that killing frost or freeze takes them out. We also love to make our own spaghetti sauce, Salsa, pizza sauce and juice to preserve by canning.

It takes some thought and planning so we have the right tomato plants in our garden.  We don’t run out and buy or raise from seed just any tomato to grow.  Some may say, ‘Well a tomato is a tomato…right?’  Yes it is…. but if you want to end up with the right tomato plant in your garden or pot you need to know the two categories you will be choosing from.  DETERMINATE and INDETERMINATE.   For tomatoes we eat and for that longer growing and producing season we look for tomatoes in the Indeterminate category. And for making all our yummy tomato products, like spaghetti sauce, etc,  we will choose from the Determinate category.  Most folks know about these 2 categories and the difference but some of you may not know and end up disappointed with your choice of tomato plants. My husband, Melvin, has a great understanding about the two categories and made decisions about our tomatoes based on his knowledge.  I on the other hand, understood how each tomato grew and produced but knowing and understanding the terminology was something I didn’t have! I set aside a little time to learn more about it! Knowledge is GOOD, helpful and definitely not a waste of time to gain it.   So, what is the difference between Determinate and Indeterminate?

Indeterminate tomato plants will grow large some may be trailing, sprawling and will have to be supported with stakes or cages. They also will produce tomatoes for a longer season because they keep growing and setting on flowers.  Their size isn’t determined and some of them can reach up to 6 feet tall.  We use these tomatoes primarily for eating, juicing and can whole tomatoes.  Some examples of this category of tomatoes is Beefsteak, Big Boy, Goldie, Early Girl, most Cherry/Grape types and your Heirloom Tomatoes.

Determinate tomato plants are Bush type tomatoes, reaching 3-4 feet tall. They have a shorter growing and producing season because they will set flowers all at same time usually and the fruit will mostly ripen all at close to the same time. These are great tomatoes to grow if you don’t have a large garden. Perfect for raised beds, patio and balcony gardens.  You can also grow in most containers that drain well.  We grow plenty of these tomatoes because they are the ones we make our sauces from.  Some examples of determinate tomatoes are Roma, Heinz, Amish Paste and Rutgers to name a few.

So we grow tomatoes from both categories because they each serve a specific need or want for us.  We usually grow our own plants from seed and when you look in a seed catalog or on a seed packet it usually specifies what category that tomato is in. I haven’t seen many plants at greenhouses and nursery’s that has that information listed.

It may take a little time and effort to get the tomato plants you want, learning about and understanding these two categories will help!  And if you are a tomato lover it is well worth the effort!!!   Happy Frugal Gardening!