With more than 10,000 tomato varieties to choose from, it can be difficult to know which ones are right for you. But the answer is simple. The best tomato varieties are the ones you have room and time to grow, and produce fruit you love to eat.
What is Your Climate?
To help narrow your choices, first consider your climate. When is your last spring frost and first fall frost? This determines your growing season, or the number of days available for growing warm season crops.
When I was living in the mountains, my last spring frost typically landed in early June and the first fall frost was often in September. This amounted to a scant 60 to 75 prime warm weather days, leaving little time for tomatoes to ripen from seed to fruit. Cool night time temps added to the problem, slowing the ripening process and increasing the number of “days to maturity”. To solve this problem, I had to give up dreams of heirloom, Black Krim tomatoes and turn my attention to varieties with short growing seasons. Sweet 100’s, Sungolds, Early Girls, Romas, and other small, quick growing types made the cut.
If you’re lucky to have hot summer nights, and a lengthy growing season, the number of varieties you have to choose from is virtually unlimited.
When considering days to maturity, particularly when growing tomatoes from seed, it’s important to know that “days to maturity” is treated a little differently for tomatoes than many other crops. Generally with tomatoes, days to maturity refers to the time from when a tomato is transplanted out to the garden to when it bears ripe fruit. This does not include the time it takes to grow from seed to transplanting. In most climates, a tomato needs to be started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last spring frost, or sooner if growing tomatoes with longer growing seasons. Often times, plants need to be potted up at least once to larger containers before transplanting.
Where Will You Plant?
Are you growing tomatoes in containers, raised beds, or straight in the ground? Most tomatoes require considerable space, thriving thanks to healthy, deep running roots. Raised beds 18 inches in height and garden plots offer the room many classic tomatoes need to flourish. However, there are a growing number of compact varieties designed for containers.
If you’re growing in containers, look for dwarf varieties or those described as bush or patio hybrids. These are also often called determinate.
- Determinate or bush varieties bear fruit all at once (generally within a 2 week window). They grow well in containers, small spaces, and short growing seasons. They generally don’t need to be staked or pruned. Be prepared to preserve excess fruit once it’s ripe.
- Indeterminate varieties are also called vining tomatoes. They bear fruit and continue to grow throughout the entire growing season, and need to be staked and pruned. Grow these in deep containers, raised beds or in the ground.
- Dwarf varieties can be both determinate or indeterminate. They’re compact and best for containers and short growing seasons.
Tomatoes You Love to Eat
Tomatoes are also classed based on eating performance. Some are better for eating fresh, while others are best eaten when cooked.
- Salad varieties tend to be juicy and sweet. These are the ones best eaten on the spot, or fresh in salads.
- Cooking tomatoes are generally meaty, mild, and less juicy than salad varieties. They not only hold up to cooking, but their flavors enhance and heighten because of cooking. (Think Romas, paste, and roasting tomatoes.)
- Slicing tomatoes are often a blend of sweet and meaty. They’re big enough to cut and enjoy on a sandwich or burger, are tasty eaten fresh, but can also be cooked.
10 High Performing, Delicious Varieties to Consider
‘Sungold’ tomatoes are sweeter than sweet. They’re an indeterminate hybrid that performs well with staking and pruning. Graze on them when out in the garden, and be prepared for summer long eating. Plant in containers at least 24 inches wide and deep or grow in beds or veggie plots. 55 days to maturity.
‘Patio Princess’ tomatoes are sweet, juicy and perfect for a small space container garden. A determinate hybrid that takes 65 to 70 days to mature, it’s a wonderful salad tomato for most any garden.
‘Yellow Pear’ is a lovely, vining heirloom tomato that takes about 78 days to mature. It’s high yielding, super sweet, salad tomato.
‘Bush Early Girl’ is a compact, determinate hybrid tomato that is highly disease resistant, and grows to maturity in just 68 days. This is an incredibly hardy and reliable variety with excellent flavor.
‘New Girl’ is a an ‘Early Girl’ with upgrades. This variety is indeterminate (unlike it’s ‘Bush Early Girl’ cousin), matures early, and produces fruit all summer long. Their medium sized fruit make them wonderful for both slicing and eating fresh, and they’re highly disease resistant.
‘Brandywine’ tomatoes come in all sorts of hues. They’re a quintessential heirloom tomato growing on indeterminate vines. They take to summer heat and humidity, maturing in about 80 days. Expect plump, flavorful fruit that, in my mind, is delicious fresh, sliced, or cooked.
‘Green Zebra‘ is another favorite. It’s indeterminate heirloom, matures in about 75 to 80 days, and produces medium sized fruit that are both sweet and tangy.
‘Amish Paste‘ is a fabulous cooking tomato. If you’re looking for a tomato that is just as good cooked as it is eaten fresh, this is the tomato for you. It’s an indeterminate heirloom that matures in 65 to 80 days.
‘Black Krim’ is an all around wonderful eating tomato — roast or eat fresh. An heirloom, it takes about 70 to 90 days to mature and, as an indeterminate vine, produces fruit all season.
‘Celebrity’ is an all-around winner. It’s determinant hybrid, compact, high yielding, and matures in about 65 days. It’s an excellent choice for container gardens.
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