If you look in many seed catalogs you will see that tomatoes come in many sizes and colors, flavors and degrees of disease resistance, hybrid and open pollinated. But you will also see the terms indeterminate or determinate tomatoes. What do those terms mean and why are they important?
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One of the most asked questions about tomatoes is what do the terms determinate or indeterminate mean. And they are very important terms to know so you can make informed decisions about which tomatoes are the right ones for you to grow.
Very simply put, determinate tomatoes grow to a specific height unique to that type of tomato and they stop growing. They are often referred to as bush tomatoes. Then they set all their fruit at one time. Whoa, why would you want a tomato to do that? What if you wanted your tomatoes for canning, making a large pot of sauce or drying? You wouldn’t want to have to put up just one can at a time. Or keep your dehydrator out all summer. You would want to be able to go out and pick a bunch and get it all done at once. Being aware of which you plant is also important when you plant them, as determinate plants do not get as big and don’t need as heavy duty staking. They might be just the plant you want if you have a very short growing season so half of your tomatoes aren’t still green when the first frost hits, or if you have a CSA and want to have a large amount of fruit all at one time. If you are growing them in containers and need the plant to be smaller they mat also be just what you are looking for. Sometimes on the label or in the catalog it is abbreviated DET.
Yep, you guessed it. An indeterminate tomato plant is a vine that keeps on growing for the whole growing season. It generally gets a lot bigger and requires much more substantial staking. But it gives you tomatoes throughout the growing season. This is good if you want your tomatoes for eating fresh over a long period of time. A sandwich one day, on your salad the next. You will have tomatoes at every stage of development all at the same time on an indeterminate plant. This is generally not a perfect plant for a container. Remember, an indeterminate tomato generally needs a much stronger and taller support. On the plant label or in the catalog it may be abbreviated IND.
The stakes here are about the only ones I have found that might be able to stake a full size indeterminate tomato plant. Most of the rest of the “ready made tomato cages” just wont stand up. (literally!) I have had to string tie them from the top of my “store bought” tomato cages over to the fence on BOTH SIDES of my garden just to keep them upright. (Try working in THAT garden, ducking under strings going everywhere!)
Here is a link to a do it yourself cage that “the farmers wife” made that might just do the trick. Another option if you have a row of tomatoes is to do the Florida tomato weave. Or you can do what I do and use panty hose to tie them to a chain link fence.
So which tomato type is right for you? And how many should you plant? Well if you have enough room, maybe some of both. Then you have tomatoes throughout the season and you still have enough to can, dry or just give away. That sounds like the best of both worlds. Now that you have the skinny on the terms determinate or indeterminate tomatoes, let me know in the comments which tomatoes are your favorite to grow, and why. Maybe we can find a new favorite.
Need more tomato inspiration? Check these out and have a wonderful day in the garden.
Now have a ducky day!! And enjoy those tomatoes!
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