Tomato Basics for Beginner Gardeners

Tomato Basics

I will never forget the time I took a bite of my first ever homegrown tomato. I grew up not liking tomatoes, but when I tasted that tomato, I realized I must not have ever tired a real tomato.

It was amazing. The color was so red. The flavor was sweet, juicy, and incredible. The tomato had been cut into slices with a bit of salt and pepper added. From that moment on, I knew I needed to grow my own tomatoes and find out everything I could.

Tomatoes are a staple for most home gardens. There are so many ways to use tomatoes such as: salads, sauces, salsas, and just straight out of your hand. With the right knowledge and care, growing tomatoes can be fun, easy, and extremely rewarding.

Growing Tomato Basics

Tomato Varieties

Tomatoes ripening on the vineThere are hundreds of different tomato varieties including Big Boy, Better boy, Bumble Bee Cherry, Sweet Million, and Yellow Tasteful Tomato varieties to name a few. They come in many different colors including red, orange, yellow purple, and even white and striped. They also come in many different shape and sizes.

To determine which one you should grow will depend on your preference in taste, disease resistance, and your purpose for what you want to use the tomatoes.

Determinate / Indeterminate Tomatoes

However, before you determine which variety, let’s take one step back to understand the different growth habits that tomatoes have. There are two: determinate and indeterminate. If you are new to growing tomatoes, this will help give some clarity on which one you will choose to grow.

Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes are ones that bloom and set fruit all at once and then decline. The blooms grow at the ends of the shoots which stops the growth of the plant and “determines” their length. The benefit of these plants is that they tend to be smaller in size or more compact. They require no pruning and little staking.

There are a number of times that you might want to choose a determinate tomato plant over an indeterminate. The first is when you live in a colder climate so that you can harvest your crop in a few weeks. Another time that might be good to choose a determinate tomato plant is when you are limited on space. They are nice and compact and grow great in containers which do not need as much space.

If you are planning on making tomato paste, then choosing a determinate tomato plant is your choice as most varieties for pastes come in this growing habit.

Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate tomatoes are those that keep on growing. They will continue to grow and produce tomatoes throughout the summer. You will notice that the flowers grow along the vines rather than at the ends of the vines which means there is no determined point of growth, so they continue to grow until they are sopped by cold weather. In addition, these types of tomatoes will need to be supported or pruned as they continue to grow.

Pruning Indeterminate Tomato Plants

Pruning indeterminate plants might have been the part of growing tomato plants that intimidated me at first. This should not keep you from growing an indeterminate plant. While it might be recommended to prune because of the size a tomato plant can grow, it is not necessary. Learning how to prune can come with time and understanding of the plant.

If you are looking to prune your tomato plant, the basic idea is to take out the “Sucker”. While you observe your tomato plant grow, you will see the stems coming off the plant. Inside branch will be an additional growth that will even bear blooms. These are the parts you want to remove using garden scissors or a sharp knife, not to damage the plant. This allows the plant to place its energy in growing and into the fruit is already producing. If you are a more visual learner like me, I watched videos to make sure what I was doing was correct. Here is one that helps to show you what a sucker looks like.

If you want to take this one step further, you can place your new cut off sucker inside a glass of water. Watch after a week or so for new roots to grow. Once you see enough roots, you can plant that sucker directly into the grown and watch as a new tomato plant has been formed.

Heirloom / Hybrid Tomatoes

When picking out seeds, you might have seen the words: Heirloom or Hybrid, on the labels. Most tomatoes that are bought will be of some type of heirloom or hybrid variety. This means that the tomatoes have been bred – its pollination and reproduction controlled so that the tomato and produce specific qualities. Hybrid differs from heirloom varieties by how recently the variety has been crossed with others. This will help to determine how reliable the seeds you are buying will produce the qualities it states.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom is referred to tomatoes that have been developed over many generations. Old fashioned methods are used for growing tomatoes from seeds with the desired outcome. They would keep the seedling that retained what qualities they were looking for and threw out the seeds that did not. Over time, the characteristics of the tomatoes were more definite. In fact, this allowed for undesirable qualities to be bred completely out of the strain.

According to Plant Natural, how old a variety needs to be counted as an heirloom is somewhat up for debate. Some gardeners will say a variety must be more than 100 years old, while others will accept varieties that have dated to 1945.

Hybrid Tomatoes

Hybrid tomatoes are a different way of development of seeds. They are the result of forced cross pollination between two different varieties. In this process you won’t find any attempt to develop a seed line. It is a new cross between two different varieties that are produced each year.

Take Away

In conclusion, tomato plants are one of the most rewarding plant that you could grow in your home garden. The amazing different ways that you can use tomatoes is so fun, and the freshness of taste and flavor will blow your mind away. These were just a few tomato basics for the beginner. Having a basic understanding of growing tomatoes will help give a strong foundation as you grow as a gardener.

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