How To Grow Tomatoes Part 1: Types of Tomatoes

Tomatoes ripening on the vine


Part 1 of our series Types of Tomatoes will cover the basic types of tomatoes and tips on which type is best for you. But before we start, here’s a little story.

Believe it or Not after taking a wrong turn in Queens I found myself in the lost city of El Dorado in Mexico where I found some Carolina Mountain Husky Gold and Red Pearls while watching the Sunray’s Morning Light with my Baby Cakes, Honeybunch, Camelia, and my Hillbilly friends Mr. Stripey and Mr. Ugly. To celebrate our new Empire, we all got Porterhouse Steak Sandwiches with Fresh Salsa. For desert we had Lollipops and Gum Drops and Lemon Drops, yippee! I was such a Jolly Elf afterwards that I decided to hide the treasure under a Giant Tree and make my way back home to the Boondocks like a Jersey Devil. Now I’m Double Rich and a Celebrity!

Yep, you guessed it. Those are all varieties of Tomatoes! Gee you’re smart… This is going to be fun!

With hundreds of colorfully named tomatoes to choose from (and many funny stories to boot) how do we decide which is the best tomato for us? Here are some guidelines and considerations to choose the best tomato for your garden.


1. Purpose


Do you want to be able to tell your friends and family colorful stories like the one above while eating a fresh homegrown salad, or do you just want to make a simple tomato pasta sauce?

Deciding why you want to grow tomatoes is the first step in determining what kind of tomatoes you should to grow.

Tomatoes have been cultivated for a variety of uses including slicing, canning, and salads.

Slicing: Large meaty beefsteak tomatoes are great for slicing. Examples of great slicing tomatoes include: Brandywine, Big Boy, Beefmaster, Nebraska Wedding, Black Prince , Earl of Edgecombe


Cooking, Paste, Juicing: Italian or paste tomatoes are the best for cooking, canning, or juicing. Here are some popular examples: Roma, Plum (e.g. Black Plum, Plum Crimson, Plum Lemon, Plum Regal)


Salads and Snacks: Finally,for snacks or salads, go for the sweet bite-size tomatoes such as: Sun Gold, Sweet 100, Italian Ice, or Napa Grape.    


2. Growing Space


Next you need to consider the space of your tomato harvest.

You’ve seen tomatoes that grow big sprawling vines that can barely be contained by a single tomato cage (This is probably where the idea for the movie “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” comes from. Yeah George Clooney!)

But how do you know if you’re buying a big sprawling tomato plant with 6-20 foot vines which requires constant pruning or a smaller, more manageable tomato plant?

Simply, tomato plants are divided into 2 types: Determinate and Indeterminate

Determinate tomato plants flower and bear fruit only once in a two week period and stop growing thereafter. As a result, their vines are no longer than 3-4 feet.

Indeterminate tomato plants on the other hand continue flowering and bearing fruit for the duration of the growing season and therefore continue to grow. This may result in large snaking vines.

Determinate tomatoes are best for canning because of the quick, full, harvest. Indeterminate plants generally produce the large beefy plants and the small bite-size variety.

FYI: Most tomato varieties take between 50 and 85 days to harvest.



3. Availability/Seasonality


Depending on which part of the world you are in, tomatoes come in a variety of breeds. Here are the most commonly grown tomatoes in the US.

Most Popular Tomato Varieties:
Hybrid Tomatoes

Better Boy
Hybrid, indeterminate, 75 days, red, beefsteak (12-16 ounces)

Big Beef
Hybrid, indeterminate, 73 days, red, beefsteak (10-12 ounces)

Big Boy
Hybrid, indeterminate, 78 days, red, beefsteak (10-16 ounces)

Hybrid, determinate, 70 days, red, globe (8-12 ounces)

Early Girl
Hybrid, indeterminate, 50-52 days, red, globe (8 ounces)

Grape Tomato
Hybrid, indeterminate, 60 days, brilliant red, elongated cherry tomatoes

Independence Day
Hybrid, indeterminate, 49 days, red, small (4 ounces)

Hybrid, determinate, 75 days, bright red, globe (6-8 ounces)

Hybrid, indeterminate, 60 days, red, elongated cherry (1 ounce)

Hybrid, indeterminate, 62 days, orange, cherry

Most Popular Tomato Varieties:
Heirlooms (open-pollinated tomatoes)

Amish Paste To
Heirloom, indeterminate, 85 days, red, paste tomato (8 ounces)

Black Krim
Heirloom, indeterminate, 69-80 days, red/brown, beefsteak (16 ounces)

Heirloom, indeterminate, 69-80 days, pink, beefsteak (16+ ounces)

Cherokee Purple
Heirloom, indeterminate, 69-80 days, purple/brown/black, beefsteak (16 ounces)

Green Zebra
Heirloom, determinate, 78 days, green, small (3 ounces)

Mortgage Lifter
Heirloom, indeterminate, 85 days, pink, beefsteak (16-24 ounces)

San Marzano
Heirloom, indeterminate, 85 days, red/pink, plum (4 ounces)

Yellow Pear
Heirloom, indeterminate, 71 days, bright yellow, pear-shaped cherry (1 ½” round) 


Learn More about the different varieties of tomatoes

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