Tomatoes are as varied as the gardeners who grow them, and have wonderfully complex flavors that inspire creative cooking. They are also a fantastic treat right off the vine, just warmed by the sun. No wonder tomatoes are America’s favorite vegetable to eat and grow!

What kind of fruit (large or small, red or yellow or rainbow, sweet or salty) and when the tomato will be ready to eat depend on the variety you choose.

Just a few of the wonderful tomato varieties Tonkadale carries include Big Boy, Early Girl, Yellow Pear, Roma, and Sweetheart of the Patio, a prolific, disease-resistant cherry variety great for snacking.

Black prince and Moskovich tomatoes at Tonkadale Greenhouse

Top of page: Brandywine. Above, top: Black Prince. Above, bottom: Moskovich.

A few heirloom varieties carried by Tonkadale include:

  • Black Prince – unique combination of red and dark brown color and a rich, sweet flavor
  • Thessaloniki – early producing, disease resistant variety from Greece
  • Moskvich – rich flavor, great fresh or processed and can stand up to cool weather
  • Brandywine – an absolute favorite with rich, luscious flavor well worth the wait

Determinate or indeterminate?

Another important distinction to know when planting your garden is whether your tomato plants are determinate or indeterminate.

Determinate tomato plants grow to a specific size, bloom at one time and set and ripen fruit all at once. Their short growth habit makes them an excellent choice for small-space gardeners, and they are a great choice for processing (salsa, anyone?) since they produce many ripe tomatoes at one time.

Indeterminate tomato plants will continue to grow, produce flowers, and set fruit until it is too cold for them. In tropical climates, some indeterminate tomato plants can continue to grow and produce for several years!

Tomato cages and stakes

The size a tomato plant wants to grow will determine what kind of support it needs. Regular tomato cages are fine for determinate tomatoes and some don’t require a cage at all. Very large cages will work for indeterminate. Tomatoes can also be tied to stakes with plant tape as they grow, or the plants can be threaded through tight rows of twine stretched between stakes.

Planting tomatoes

Tomatoes are heat-loving plants that like full sun (6-8 hours) and need a long growing season. Seeds must be started indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost or purchased as plants from a garden center. Tomatoes prefer soil that is thoroughly warmed, so planting can begin about May 15 (as long as last frost has occurred) through June 1 (and even a little later is just fine).

There are two common tomato planting methods. Dig a hole deep enough to bury the stem up to the bottom leaves, or dig a trench and lay the plant down, gently bending the plant upward as you cover the roots and stem, again up to the bottom leaves. Tomatoes will grow roots from the stem, anchoring the plant more securely and providing the means for uptake of water and nutrients.

After planting, thoroughly soak the soil and continue to give plants at least 1 inch of water per week. If possible, water the soil and not the plant – drip irrigation or a soaker hose is best. If watering with a hand-held hose, keep the nozzle close to the ground around the plant and try to minimize water splashing from the soil to the leaves. If using an overhead sprinkler system, water early in the day so the plants have time to dry out.

For more information about tomatoes, visit Tonkadale Greenhouse or the University of Minnesota Extension website http://www.extension.umn.edu/

Tomatoes Part 2 coming soon: Caring for Tomato Plants Throughout the Season

Photos from Rutgers Univeristy Extension:

http://njaes.rutgers.edu/tomato-varieties/variety.asp?Brandywine

https://njaes.rutgers.edu/tomato-varieties/variety.asp?Moskvich

http://njaes.rutgers.edu/tomato-varieties/variety.asp?Black+Prince