Tomatoes come in many varieties based on what you intend to use the tomato for and your expectations of those tomatoes. Sit down at the kitchen table and make a list of the uses you will have for your tomato across the top of the page. Below each, list the expectations (characteristics) for that tomato use. Then you can start investigating tomatoes that meet those uses and characteristics.
Here are some terms you will need to know. Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow, and produce, throughout the season. Determinate tomatoes will grow to a certain size and stop growing. Most of the tomato fruit will mature at the same time on the determinate tomato vine (great for canning purposes).
Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated tomatoes introduced many generations ago. Their characteristics had merits that endeared them to some people, thus, the seed were passed down to others. Hybrids are the results of artificial pollination of one variety with another variety. In general, heirloom tomatoes taste better but are more susceptible to diseases than hybrids. Hybrids are more productive and usually bare earlier than heirlooms. Hybrids will usually have the “F1” designated on the tag or seed pack.
Disease resistance is often displayed after the tomato name on the tag or on a seed pack. V refers to Verticillium wilt resistance. FF = Fusarium diseases races 1 and 2 resistance. N = root knot nematode resistance. T = Resistant to tobacco mosaic virus. A = Alternaria stem canker resistance. ST = Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot. TSWV = Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. In middle Tennessee we are more concerned with VFNT.
A great web site to help in choosing tomatoes is http://www.totallytomato.com/ . Under the “Tomato Seeds” tab are sub-categories that will narrow your search somewhat. Here is what we do:
For early table tomatoes we prefer Early Girl Hybrid (VFF). Very taste. Firm medium size tomato.
Other table tomatoes we usually select from the following heirlooms:
Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato. Delicious sweet flavor. Tomato turns a lighter color green when ripe. Meaty flesh is green blushed with pink.
Box Car Willie Tomato is a all purpose heirloom with an unsurpassed flavor. Heavy producer throughout the season. Meaty fruit that is generally crack-free. Highly disease resistant.
Cherokee Purple Tomato that is an ugly tomato, but oh what a taste! Reliable producer even during dry summers. Generally disease resistant.
Mortgage Lifter Tomato (some time called Radiator Charlie) has a good yield even in dry summers. Very meaty and has few seed. Flavor is mild, delectable, and sweet. Good canner and juicer.
We also have a couple Cherry Tomatoes to use in salads and because they are favorites with kids. Plants are hard to find. Thus, we save seed. “Totally Tomatoes” has a wide selection you can read and choose the variety that suits you. We had a bad experience with Super Sweet 110 (99% cracked).
Big Box Stores will have a variety of tomato plants to select from. Be careful, however, you never know if the tag in the container is in the original. Everybody pulls the tag out to read, and hopefully put them back in the container they pulled it out of. Multiply that by hundreds that “hope” they put it back in the right container. Putnam County Master Gardeners will have a plant sale the last weekend in April. There will be a wide selection of tomato plants available.
When planting your tomato, mix in a liberal quantity of a good quality compost and ½ teaspoon Miracle Grow or other balanced fertilizer. If you over fertilize you get a lot of vine and no tomatoes. When the tomatoes bloom and forms small tomatoes feed the plants with additional fertilizer. If you are a smoker, wear gloves when handling tomato and pepper plants. If you water tomatoes, reduce water as the fruits get about half grown. They will have better taste. Next year, plant tomatoes in a location where you had not tomatoes, pepper, or potatoes.
C. B. Coburn, Putnam County Master Gardener