With their sweet, juicy flesh, fire-colored skins, and impressive yields, tomatoes are the most produced vegetable in the United States.
Now, we know that a tomato is technically a fruit, but because they’re usually included in savory dishes, we refer to them as vegetables.
There are around 10,000 varieties of tomato plants, ranging in color from white to deep purple and even black. With such a vast choice, it can be difficult to know where to begin.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular tomato varieties, how you can grow them and when to harvest (and eat) them.
Are you ready? Let’s grow!
What tomatoes should I choose?
With literally thousands of tomato varieties to choose from, it can be hard to know what tomatoes to grow.
You don’t have to stick to one type and with so much choice, it makes sense to try several different varieties to find the ones that you like best.
From the super-sweet cherry tomatoes to the hefty beefsteak varieties, don’t be afraid to experiment.
There are two types of tomatoes that you can grow in your backyard.
Vine tomatoes are known as indeterminate tomatoes, continually growing and producing fruit throughout the growing season. These tomatoes will need staking as they can grow up to 6 feet tall.
Determinate tomatoes are smaller, bushier plants. Their growing tips end in flowers, rather than leaves.
They usually reach a set height of up to 3 feet and produce fruit over a shorter time than continually growing varieties. These tomatoes can be grown in pots with minimal or no support.
Some top tomato varieties to grow include:
- Tiny Tim Dwarf Cherry Tomato – a delicious variety that’s perfect in pots and even hanging baskets
- Celebrity Beefsteak – a great all-round, medium to large-sized tomato
- San Marzano – a beautiful, plum tomato that is incredible in salad and salsas
- Green Zebra – an unusual stripy, green tomato with a tart flavor – ideal for frying
- Dixie Golden Giant – a large, golden yellow beefsteak tomato with a sweet, fruity taste.
Heirloom or hybrid?
You may have heard these tomatoey terms, but what do they mean?
A hybrid tomato has been cross-bred to produce specific characteristics. Hybrid varieties are usually easier to grow and less prone to disease than heirloom tomatoes.
Heirloom varieties have been grown without crossbreeding for over 40 years. They are generally considered to be the best-tasting tomatoes but can be harder to grow and typically produce lower yields.
How to grow tomatoes
If you’re growing your plants from seed, the best time to plant them is 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. You’ll need to start them indoors.
- Add some seed starter mix to a small pot; egg cartons, seed-starting trays, and biodegradable pots are all good choices.
- Place 2-3 seeds in each container, lightly cover with the soil, and firm gently. Add a little water and place the pots in a warm spot.
- You can place a lid or a sheet of plastic over the pots while you’re waiting for them to germinate. Keep the soil moist and remove the cover when the seedlings appear.
- For best results, you’ll want one little plant per pot so pick the strongest looking seedling and snip the others off at ground level. (We know, it hurts to do this!)
- When the second set of true leaves appears, you can add a little fertilizer to the plants.
- Depending on the size of your pots, you may need to repot your baby tomatoes before it’s time to plant them outdoors.
When the risk of frost has passed, it’s time to move your tomato babies outdoors.
Choose a sunny, sheltered spot and plant them in a large pot, grow bag, or garden border.
Tomatoes are hungry plants so if you’re planting them into the ground, make sure you dig some in well-rotted compost, before adding the young plants. Add a slow-release fertilizer to potted plants.
How to care for tomatoes
Tomatoes need plenty of sun, moisture, and fertilizer to thrive. As soon as the flowers appear, feed your plants with a weekly dose of organic, liquid tomato feed.
Keep your tomatoes well watered and, if you have a vining variety, you’ll need to pinch out the side shoots.
When the small fruits appear, you can remove any surrounding leaves to help light reach them and allow air to flow freely.
Common tomato problems
Like all plants, tomatoes can fall prey to pests, viruses, and fungi.
To help your plants stay healthy, take care not to over or underwater the plants, fertilize regularly and make sure the plants are well supported.
Planting companions like basil, parsley, garlic, marigolds, and nasturtiums near tomatoes helps to repel pests and can help to boost yields.
When to harvest tomatoes
Without a doubt, the most rewarding time in a grower’s journey is enjoying the fruits of your hard labor.
Tomatoes are ready for harvesting when they’ve just turned the right color, usually towards the end of summer. It’s best not to let them ripen fully on the plant.
Indeterminate types will slow down fruit production if too many tomatoes are kept on the plant so keep picking them as soon as the fruits are ready. It will also help to keep the weight of the vines in check and reduce stem breakage.