Since we have a lot of new gardeners, I thought it would be helpful to recirculate this information I sent last spring to those of you that are having trouble deciding what tomatoes to plant.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid
There are two types of tomatoes available at nurseries. Most agree that the heirloom varieties taste better but they are more likely to suffer from diseases when the weather warms up and insects get active. The hybrid varieties are not completely immune to diseases but they are bred to resist some of the more common diseases that are known to attack tomatoes. One of the most popular tomato variety is named “Celebrity” because it resists more diseases than others and it also usually matures earlier than others in that size range. Those that like small tomatoes have a choice of grape or cherry type and the grape tend to be more crunchy compared to the softer and juicier cherry tomatoes. The larger tomatoes tend to be late season varieties which tend to get diseases and bug problems as the weather warms up.
I prefer the hybrids because they are more resistant to tomato problems that are worse in southern climates even though they may not taste as good as heirlooms. Seed catalogs usually list the the more common tomato problems with codes. Some of the more common diseases are: V – Verticillium Wilt, F – Fusarium Wilt ( F F -Races 1 & 2, F F F – Races 1, 2, & 3), N – Nematodes, T – Tobacco Mosaic Virus, A – Alternaria, St – Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot, and TSWV – Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus.
I prefer the earlier season varieties because the earlier the fruit matures, the less chance you have to lose them to bugs and diseases. Seed catalogs usually give you a certain number of days to mature fruit from the time transplants are set out. Of course this can vary because of soil temperature, amount of sun, etc. A loose guide with often overlaps is as follows: Early season, around 50 – 68 days, Mid season 68 – 80 days, and Late season 80 – 100 or more days. Naturally the earlier season varieties are usually small to medium size such as grape and cherry varieties while the larger varieties tend to be in the late season range
Indeterminate vs. Determinate
I prefer indeterminate varieties because they often produce for a longer time and will produce up until frost if the bugs or diseases don’t get them first. Of course the fruit will stop setting when the night time temperatures warm up in summer but if the plants stay healthy they will start setting in the fall when the night temperatures drop. Definition of indeterminate: Vines keep producing new shoots and blossoms even after some fruits have set. Tomatos in all stages of development may be on the vine at once and harvest is extended and usually turn out to be taller plants and need stronger support. This is in contrast to Determinate varieties that have vines that make little or no growth once fruit is set. Harvest time is short as all fruit developes about the same time.
Now although I have stated preferences, I still plant some heirlooms for their good taste and plant some determinates because they produce earlier before the tomato problems have a chance to develope when the weather warms up.
Hope this helps and have a fun and successful spring gardening season,