When you look at the listings in seed catalogs or the tags of plants in garden shops, you’re going to see several different terms used to describe the growth habit of tomatoes.
You really want to understand these next two differences in tomatoes. The first is ideal for ladder or cage growing and the second is much better for pole staking. Trying to grow one with the methods of the other will lead to lower yields and gardening frustration.
Words To Understand
Determinate: This means the fruit all ripens at the same time. These plants were developed for commercial harvesting. In short, if all the tomatoes ripen at the same time, then a machine can go into the field and take everything. So you can expect the plants to ripen all the fruit you’re going to get at the same time. It produces a bush – the bush produces the fruit – and then the fruit all ripens at the same time.
Determinate plants are seldom staked as the plant tends to have a bush shaped growth and higher yields will be achieved by allowing the plant to produce as many fruit as it can. Tomato cages are one solution that many gardeners use to get the plant off the ground without having to stake. (See notes below on cages)
Some catalogs describe these as bush type plants
Indeterminate: This is pretty much the opposite of determinate. These plants continue to grow and continue to produce new flowers for as long as they are alive. They will ripen their fruit over the entire length of the growing season. Ripening starts with the bottom trusses (the term for a cluster of tomatoes) and continues up the vine.
Indeterminate plants are excellent candidates for staking as their vine-like growth constantly produces fruit over the entire growing season.
Some catalogs describe these plants as staking tomatoes
Cherry: these plants produce small fruit – generally in the one-inch range. They come in both determinate and indeterminate varieties.
Canning: these tomatoes contain a lower percentage of water than fresh eating fruit. They were developed for commercial canning so it would be cheaper to process the fruit (a lower percentage of water has to be cooked off – reducing the fuel needs and speeding up the process). Home gardeners can take advantage of these characteristics although taste tests between these canning varieties and fresh eating varieties invariably put canning tomatoes at the bottom of the test. (Yes, I know that some of you really like the taste of canning tomatoes over fresh eating tomatoes – I just report the data, I don’t make it up.)
Canning tomatoes are mostly determinate plants.
Fresh market tomatoes were developed for the fresh eating market. Need I say more? They can be canned or frozen but will contain more water than the canning varieties.
Letters at the end of tomato names stand for the disease resistance of the individual plant:
V = verticillium resistant
F = fusarium resistant
N = nematode resistant
T = tobacco mosaic virus resistant
Heirloom tomatoes are plants that are open-pollinated so the seed can be saved from year to year. They usually have a “connection” to an older, more rural lifestyle or have been brought to North America from other countries.
Open pollinated means the seed will come true to type. It is genetically based on one variety and not a cross-breeding between two distinct varieties. While Heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated, if care is not taken in growing them, i.e. you grow two different Heirloom varieties close together, the resulting seeds will be hybrid tomatoes.
Hybrid tomatoes are plants that come from two distinct parent plants. These parents are normally selected for a growing characteristic e.g. earliness, color, shape, water content etc.
Disease resistant doesn’t mean the plant will not get the disease, it simply means the plant will resist getting the disease.
Is the tomato a fruit?
Well, yes it is.
Botanically speaking, a fruit is developed from the ovary in the base of a flower and contains the seeds of the plant. So tomatoes develop from the base of the tomato flower and contain the seeds for next year’s crop. (other examples of this would be apples, oranges, blueberries, and raspberries).
A “vegetable” is technically using another part of the plant such as the leaves of cabbages and lettuce. Or the roots of carrots and potatoes and stalks of celery. These vegetables do not develop from the base of a flower and do not contain the seeds for next year’s plants.
But in common speaking, we refer to tomatoes as vegetables because we use them in this way. So – a tomato is the fruit of the tomato plant and we use it as a vegetable.
p.s. It was the US government trying to implement tariffs and taxes that labelled the tomato a vegetable.
Tomatoes are one of the most eaten foods in North America and allergic reactions to it are extremely rare but they do exist. Much of the time, the reaction is found to be a cross-reaction to another item in the prepared food such as a gluten binder or coloring agent in the bread or dressing. The only way to definitely tell if there is a reaction to tomato itself is to have an allergy test done by a qualified physician. This testing may include blood tests including an IgE allergy antibody test, blood counts, possible nasal smears, and a full food diary review and symptomatic medical history.
Some folks say they are allergic to some kinds of tomatoes but can eat others, i.e. can’t eat the red but can eat the yellow-skinned varieties. There is no literature in the medical Internet to support or contradict this kind of allergy. Again, a visit to a qualified physician is the only way to identify an allergy.
Note that in both of these cases, a food diary is important and should be kept for a month or more (noting symptoms after meals) to share with the physician.
However in 1595, the herbalist Gerarde wrote, “love apples yield very little nourishment to the bodie, and the same naught and corrupt”