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Off the Vine: Tomatoes 101

When it comes to growing tomatoes, deciding which variety to grow can often be the hardest part! There are many varieties of tomatoes, and many different ways to enjoy them. Whether you are canning, making sauce or eating your tomatoes fresh by the slice, there is a tomato variety that is suited to your needs.

All tomatoes fall into one of two categories: Indeterminate plants bear fruit continuously up until frost; determinate plants set one large crop and are finished once it ripens. Indeterminate plants have long, sprawling vines requiring heavy-duty staking. Determinate plants are bushy and can be cont vained by tomato cages.

Caring for Your Tomato Plant
Tomatoes prefer full sun. They also prefer a rich, well-drained soil. Amend with a compost, such as Purple Cow Activated Compost, so your tomato plant receives the nutrients it needs. Fertilize your tomato plants when you first plant them and again at mid-season. Espoma’s Tomato Tone is an organic tomato fertilizer that contains all the nutrients needed.

Tomatoes benefit by being planted deeper than what you may be used to. Roots develop along the stem, so remove the lower sets of leaves and plant so that only one or two sets of leaves are visible. This will help develop a strong root system.


  • Mulching conserves water, keeps the roots cool, adds organic matter and keeps weeds out.
  • A layer of mulch will act as a buffer between the soil and the plant, preventing soil-born fungal problems.
  • Mulches should be put down at least three to four inches thick. Add mulch as needed during the growing season. Keep it away from stems.


  • Indeterminate tomatoes should be staked as soon they’re planted.
  • Avoid allowing the plant to grow too tall before giving it support. Tomatoes can easily break from a heavy wind.
  • Determinate plants should be sturdy enough without a support at first. Later, as the plants bear fruit, staking may be necessary to help them support the weight of the fruit.
  • Attach the tomato plant to the stake using a tie that won’t cut into the branches.
  • Consider using a cage along with staking. If you do, install it before the tomato plant grows too much!


  • Pruning helps direct the tomatoes energy into fruit production, rather than foliage growth.
  • As a tomato plant grows, it’ll start to develop side shoots between the leaves and main stem (the node). These are called suckers, which should be removed or they’ll grow into a stem and eventually flower. Allow this “sucker” to grow just over two inches, then pinch it off.
  • Remove the lowest branches. The lowest branches should be 24 inches above the soil level to create air flow.

Ready to pick out your type of tomato? Here is a selection of some of the tastiest tomatoes you should consider planting this season:


  • Beefsteak: Extra-large, deep red tomatoes are the perfect addition to your famous chili. Yields of 12 to 16 ounce tomatoes grow from strong vines and have thick flavor. One large slice is perfect on your hamburger!
  • Big Boy: Very large globe-shaped tomatoes grow to about one to two pounds each. This tomato is the perfect base for many cooked dishes and ideal for sandwiches.
  • Early Girl: Yields a prolific crop of four to six ounce size tomatoes all season long. Water well to prevent drying out in warm weather.
  • Beefmaster: The strong vines yield large quantities of meaty tomatoes up to two pounds each! These tomatoes are a full-flavored fruit with good disease resistance. Use in salads, sandwiches, soups and sauces.


  • Sweet 100: This is a wonderful choice for containers! Small and sweet cherry-like fruit are produced in large clusters on strong vines. They’re delightful to eat straight from the vine!
  • Grape: Super-sweet, bite sized tomatoes will offer delicious flavor! The high yields on this plant will give you many bright red tomatoes for your salads, soups and sauces!
  • Yellow Plum: This heirloom tomato has a beautiful golden color, and it’s shaped exactly like a tiny pear! Abundant one to two ounce tomatoes have a sweet, mild taste.


  • Mr. Stripey: This unique tomato dates back to the 1800′s and was brought here by Virginia Mennonites. The beautiful yellow-orange streaks run throughout the one to three pound tomatoes. The color and rich, tangy flavor make this one of the most popular heirloom varieties available! This tomato is beautiful when added to salads.
  • Mortgage Lifter: This tomato was bred in the 1930′s by Radiator Charlie, the owner of a radiator repair shop was facing bankruptcy. Charlie had no plant breeding experience, but he managed to cross-breed four varieties to develop this big, tasty tomato. He then sold 1,000 plants at $1 each over six years and paid off his mortgage. The large fruits of Mortgage Lifter average 2 ½ pounds, but can reach 4 pounds when grown in ideal conditions.
  • Brandywine: Brandywine, one of the best known and widely grown heirloom tomatoes, produces very large tomatoes with deep pink skin and red flesh.
  • Black Krim: This heavy producing heirloom tomato originates from the island of Krim in the Black Sea of Russia. It has a rich, dark brown-red color on the outside and a blackish-red meaty inside! The 10-12 ounce tomatoes have a rich and sweet flavor, with just a hint of saltiness. This tomato is beautiful when added to salads. Also use in soups, sauces, cooked dishes, and on sandwiches for lush, vine-ripened, sun-warmed, juicy, and ready to burst flavor!

Sauce, Paste and Canning

  • San Marzano tomatoes are perfect for canning due to their firm texture, dark red color and sweet flavor. They also don’t produce many seeds, making them perfect for making sauces and pastes. They are a very high yielding variety, and they love the heat.
  • Roma Plum tomatoes are very common and perfect for canning and making tomato paste. They are slender, firm and meaty and have very few seeds. They are easy to grow, produce tons of fruit and won’t take up too much space.
  • Jet Star: This variety of tomato has a large, 8 ounce firm and meaty tomato. The sweet flavor is perfect for your sauces and canning.

It’s hard to narrow down your favorite tomato varieties; the only way to find out is to grow them yourself!


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