11 January 2010

Trying this year: Determinate Tomatoes

I hate staking. I'll happily weed for hours on end, happy as can be. I'll spend a full day working hard with a shovel and smile all the while. But I hate staking.
Because of this, my tomatoes always end up sprawling in a tangled mess on the ground. I know they'll be healthier if I stake. I know it will be easier to harvest them if I stake. Because I know this, some years I actually go so far as to put stakes out in the garden, which resulted in my tomatoes being a wild mess with some stakes sticking out of the middle.

So this year, I'm going to try growing some determinate tomatoes.

The technical definitions of determinate and indeterminate just refer to where flowers are produced. Determinate plants produce them at the top of a stem, forcing new growth to come from new branches at the side of the plant, while indeterminate plants produce flowers along the sides of the stem, allowing a single branch to keep growing on and on and on.

 This means that determinate tomatoes grow short and bushy -- rarely needing to be staked -- while indeterminate tomatoes grow long and floppy -- and theoretically ought to be staked, though of course I never actually do.

I've steered away from indeterminate tomatoes up until now, though, because catalogs always define them a different way: They say the determinate tomatoes produce fruit which ripens all at once, while indeterminate varieties produce continuously all summer long.

But: Recently I've been reading something different: Tom Clothier on the tomato page of his quirky, very enjoyable website, says some there are determinate tomatoes, which produce a load of fruit and then stop, and there are vigorous or strong determinates, which keep sending up new shoots, ending in flowers and fruit, all season -- so they produce continously like a indeterminate, but minus the staking, and are usually much earlier than indeterminates.

Which sounds perfect to me... We'll see! If I can get tomatoes which produce well and taste yummy but don't turn themselves into a tangled mass, I'm all for it. I'm still growing my favorite indeterminate varieties, but I'm also going to be trying out these 4 determinate ones:
Al Kuffa
Mountain Princess
Gold Nugget
Subarctic Plenty

We'll see how they perform!
Anyone with experience with determinate tomatoes? If so, please leave a comment with your thoughts, and any varieties you'd suggest or warn against.


Lona said...

Hi Joseph. I wondered what determinate and indeterminate meant on the tomato inscriptions. Thanks for clearing that up.
I have been trying to decide what tomatoes to grow this summer also.I may just go with Celebrity or Big Boy. I tried Brandywine's last summer and that was a fiasco for planters. Talk about your tangles mess.I just did not like the taste either and since it was suppose to be an old heirloom favorite I was really let down by its flavor.

Meredith said...

Hi, Joseph. It's my first time visiting your blog, and I like what I've seen thus far.

Let me just mention that determinate varieties might still get quite large. We grew several Rutgers tomatoes this year, and even the one grown in a large patio pot got to over six feet tall! We had caged it, anticipating more modest growth from a determinate variety, and it went tumbling right over the side of the porch. So beware. :)

Oh, and it produced all summer long. There was a moment where it set most of its fruit, but then we kept getting a few tomatoes here and there, right up through September.

Good luck with your summer experiment!

Joseph said...

Hocking Hills,
I think you really have to try bunches to find out what you like -- I enjoy Brandywine, but it isn't my favorite (and yes, it is a tangled mess to beat all tangled messes!) My standard favorites are: Matt's Wild Cherry, Black Krim, Olpaka, and Prudens Purple.
Welcome Meredith! And thanks for the comment... I'd better not have to stake the darn things! We'll see!

Jane Ellis said...

FYI to all of you tomato growers... I found a terrific support tool called the Tomato stake.

Better than everything else on the market, and outlasts metal cages, bamboo, etc.

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