There are a lot of tomato varieties out there! With more than 10, 000 known varieties, and more being created and released every year, how do you choose which ones to grow? Here are some things to consider when choosing varieties to grow:
Days to maturity (DTM)
The DTM is one of the most important pieces of information to look for when browsing seed catalogues and seed packets. The description on a seed packet or in a catalogue will usually say something like “75 days” for example, and what this is referring to is about how many days from transplant until you’ll start harvesting tomatoes. Of course, this could vary a bit depending on your growing conditions, but it gives you a pretty good idea. The DTM will tell you whether a particular variety will have time to mature in your garden, and can also help you to plan for a continuous harvest. If you’re only growing a few plants, look for early, mid-season, and late-maturing varieties for a constant supply of tomatoes. Early maturity is about 45 to 60 days, mid-season is 60 to 75 days, and late is 75 days or more.
The growth habits of tomato varieties lets you know how big your plants will get. Knowing how big they get can help you plan where, and how far apart to put your plants, as well as how to train and prune them (if you choose to). Micro dwarf varieties are about 6-12 inches tall, and dwarf varieties stay between about 2-4 feet. Determinate varieties generally grow to about 4-5 feet tall and ripen all of their fruit in a short period of time (usually 1-2 weeks). All three of these types should not be pruned. The majority of tomato varieties are indeterminate, which means they will keep growing and producing fruit until they are killed by frost. They tend to be the most productive of the four types.
Make sure to think about how you use tomatoes when choosing varieties to grow. Do you make a lot of tomato sauce? Do you like to snack on tiny cherry tomatoes? Or do you like a thick slab on your burger or sandwich? Also, think about keeper varieties that will store at the end of the season to enjoy over the winter. Grow the types of tomatoes that you are going to use and enjoy the most!
Not all tomatoes taste the same. Some are quite sweet, others more acidic, and some are in between. Some have a flavour that may be described as fruity, tropical, or citrusy. Go to your friends or neighbours’ gardens, or even a tomato-tasting event, and just start tasting to find out what you like.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I once gave a neighbour a plant for a delicious brown tomato variety. At the end of the season, I asked her how she liked it. She said she couldn’t get over the colour and it wasn’t appealing because of it. I love all the unusual shapes, sizes and colours of tomatoes, and I encourage people to try something new but make sure that you’re going to actually eat those tomatoes after all that hard work.
It’s really disappointing when your tomato plants get attacked by diseases. After all the hard work you’ve put into growing that plant, it’s the last thing you want. If this is something you struggle with, consider picking varieties with disease resistance.
I love to save tomato seeds. It’s pretty easy and is totally worth it to me. A little bit of work, and you’ll have seeds that will last for at least 10 years! It means that I don’t have to buy a lot of tomato seeds year after year, and I don’t have to track down hard-to-find varieties again and again. Plus, it’s great to swap and share them with other gardeners! Think about hybrid vs. open-pollinated varieties if you’re planning on saving seeds. If you save hybrid seeds, when you grow them the next year they won’t come true to type, while open-pollinated varieties (including heirlooms) will.