A Tomato for Everyone!
Picking out a tomato plant can seem as tricky as shoe shopping, with all the sizes, varieties, and styles available. Since it’s a bit harder to try on your new tomato plant than a set of high-heels or sneakers (although you don’t have to worry about them making your calves look big) I want to arm you with some basic tomato plant know-how, as well as my top tomato plant picks, before you hit West Coast Gardens for a shopping spree!
The reasons I love planting tomatoes in my garden and on the patio are many but include quick and healthy snacking opportunities, make-your-own-salsa nights, and even freezing your surplus for winter chili! You never have to stop at one tomato plant either, and can try out a few different varieties each year to find your own favourites.
Dressing for Success - No Matter What the Occasion
Just as you wouldn’t wear your cowboy boots to the running track (at least not twice) there are different kinds of tomato plants for your various needs.
The first thing to consider is what you want your tomatoes for. Are you a garden-grazer, popping that fruit into your mouth while you’re weeding or relaxing on the deck? (Or maybe you have a yard full of kids that love to snack on mini tomatoes). If so, pick a smaller variety of tomatoes such as cherry tomatoes, which produce all summer long.
Maybe you’re into preserving your fruit or making homemade salsa? Then you’re best to stick to larger tomato varieties that have a high production yield all at once.
Deciphering the Tomato Code - Shopping Like A Pro
No one wants to buy a pair of shoes that are all scuffed up and worn (unless you’re looking for that ‘grunge’ look) and you should buy a tomato plant with the same care. Look for small plants that have a strong stem, healthy looking leaves without spots or yellowing, and that haven’t grown too lanky.
When you try to read the plant info label on the pots it may leave you feeling as if your favourite shoes store suddenly switched to European sizes. Sure it’s the same shoe - but will it fit? Well, the first thing you need to know is that there are two kinds of plants to choose from; determinate and indeterminate.
What are determinate and indeterminate tomato plants?Determinate tomato plants stop growing once they reach a certain height and then focus their energy on expanding branches. The fruit appears on the ends of these branches after about a month of maturing. Most of the tomatoes appear all at once so they are perfect for large batches of fruit for canning or cooking. They are also great for planting in late summer for a quick end of season harvest. Indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow, flower and produce fruit all season, growing past five feet tall. They do require some pruning in order to keep their fruit growing. If you’re looking for delicious fruit all summer long (but in small batches) then these are the plants for you.
My Top Tomato PicksWhen it comes to tomatoes it’s all about your personal taste and needs, but I definitely have my favourites!
Sun Gold - My absolute favourite, this is a gorgeous orange cherry tomato with a high sugar content and low acidity, which makes it like eating candy (but your dentist approves).
Sweet Million - This one is constantly producing small sweet cherry tomatoes I pop in my mouth when I’m out gardening. (That is if the kids have left me any!)
Sun Sugar - Another beautiful orange-toned cherry tomato. You can use this as an alternative to Sun Gold if you can’t find it, as the two are very similar in flavor and size.
Super Sweet 100 - Like the options above, this is another indeterminate tomato variety which will bloom and produce all year. It grows really well in the west coast climate.
Brandywine - The rich purple coloured flesh on this heirloom tomato makes it a top pick!
Early Girl - For a quick crop, try this variety as it blooms and produces fruit much earlier than other plants.
Beefsteak - A classic tomato, it’s giant size makes it perfect for adding slices to your summer hamburger BBQ.
Better Boy - Another one to look out for because of it’s amazing size. Giant-sized tomato slices!
Cherokee Purple Heirloom - Another beautiful tomato to grow in the garden then serve up on a plate!
Canning, salsa or making tomato paste
Roma - Always delicious - this medium sized fruit really packs a taste punch, as often has less seeds than other types of tomatoes which is a definite bonus!
San Marzano - Great for canning, high production of fruit, and delicious taste.
A Great Fit - Accessorize Those TomatoesWhat other options do you need to know about before bringing home your tomato plants? Here are the highlights:
- If the tag says heirloom, it means the plant variety has been around for over 50 years and isn’t a hybrid.
- A hybrid is bred by crossing varieties of plants, which can offer better resistance to disease, higher crop quantities, and other great traits. They aren’t genetically engineered.
- When you see an Early Variety it means that the plant matures in 50-60 days, so you can harvest early or even wait and plant it later on in the season.
Caring for your New Tomatoes - Walking on Sunshine
Shoes may love to be kept in your closet, but tomato plants thrive in the bright sunshine. In fact, it’s the most important thing to consider when choosing a permanent home. These fruit plants can live in the garden (2’-3’ apart) or in containers (I recommend 18”-24” pots) which means they can become part of your patio decor, as long as there’s enough sun.
Aim for 6-8 hours of sun a day for delicious ripe fruit. When transplanting your baby tomato plant to the garden or a large container, you must bury the plant up to the first set of leaves which is usually about 2/3 of the stem. I know, I know, it’s a to-ma-to, not a po-ta-to. But it’s actually not counter-productive, because the buried stem will start shooting roots out, creating a sturdy root base for your new plant. Give it a good drink of water once it’s been planted.
Pick Up After Yourself - Momma Always Warned You
Leaving your shoes in a heap in front of the door likely got you in trouble as a kid and the same goes for tomatoes, which need to be kept off the ground to protect them from disease and dampness. Your young plant will double its size every 12-15 days, until it starts to flower, which means that it’s not long before you have to start to stake up your vine.
Use twine at least 1/8” thick so it won’t cut into the stem of your tomato plant, and remember to be gentle. You can use stakes, a trellis, or a cage. Once the heavy fruit starts to grow make sure to tie up the vine just above the tomato clusters, attaching loosely so there is room for it to lean slightly.
Be A Tomato All Star - No It's Not A Croc
Tomatoes need some tender-loving-care after they are planted. Always water in the mornings, to allow the leaves enough time to dry off so you’re less likely to have problems with fungus or mildew. As well, if you see any leaves that are yellow or spotted, immediately pinch them off the stem with your fingers.
Adding mulch and compost to the soil can help retain moisture as well as bring more nutrients to keep your tomato healthy and producing. Remember to fertilize, the more nutrients you add the better your tomatoes will taste!
The Fruits of Your Labour - Enjoy!
Just like amazing shoes make an amazing outfit, your tomatoes are the pizzazz that make delicious meals. Eating them raw, straight from the garden in summer salads can be the best way to enjoy all of their flavour.
If you’re not sure what to mix them with try zingy red onion, crispy garden cucumbers, ripe avocado or even cubed watermelon. Of course a classic topping is fresh basil, but why not also try soft cheeses, black olives or bacon bits? Enjoy your new and delicious garden!