Did you know there are over 700 different tomato varieties in cultivation in the world today? With a plethora of colors, shapes, and sizes to choose from, they are one of the most popular fruits to grow in a garden (although tomatoes are labeled as culinary vegetables for nutritional purposes).
There are two different types of tomatoes -- determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate tomatoes grow to a certain height (about four feet) and when they reach maximum height, the buds at the ends of the branches form flowers that bear the tomato fruit. The fruit sets all at once, ripens, and dies.
Indeterminate tomatoes are used primarily for vining, meaning that they need caging or staking to keep the tomatoes from touching the ground. They grow very tall, setting and ripening fruit until they're killed by winter frost. They require a bit more attention from the gardener, but they result in higher yields over the span of a season.
If you're planning on growing tomatoes and have limited amounts of growing space, it's best to stick with a determinate variety. This also goes for gardeners living in cold climates, as they only have a limited time frame to grow and cultivate their crops. If space is not an issue and you live in an area where winters are short or practically non-existent then it's best to go with an indeterminate variety.
Both indeterminate and determinate tomatoes offer choices for all the various classes of tomatoes.
Cherry tomatoes are small (typically less than 1 inch) and bear large clusters of fruit. They are best grown in cool climates or in gardens that have shorter summers. They go great in salads or as a snack.
The most common types of cherry tomatoes are Sweet 100, Sungold, Black Cherry and Sunrise Bumble-Bee. These are all indeterminate tomatoes, meaning they grow on stakes and cages for support and can reach very tall heights, but have differences in flavor and texture. The Sweet 100 produces an irresistibly sweet flavor, while the Black Cherry adds on to its sweetness with a classic tomato taste.
Heirloom tomatoes get their name by being passed down or grown consistently for over 50 years. They are known for their rich flavor, with a nice combination of sweetness and acidity. These tomatoes are often sliced up and used for sandwiches or salads, and they can be used to make a quick tomato sauce that's on the sweeter side. Beefsteak and Pantano Romanesco tomatoes fall under the heirloom tomato umbrella, with Pantano Romanesco being perhaps one of the best slicing tomatoes. Beefsteaks are thick tomatoes that grow best in a long, hot summer, as they need more heat than smaller varieties. The Big Beef is an early beefsteak variety that grows well in cooler climates. It has a firm texture and good tomato flavor, and many experts describe it as "the best tomato yet developed."
Hybrid tomatoes are created when gardeners cross-pollinate two different varieties of a tomato to create a fruit that has the best qualities of its parents. These tomatoes require less care, provide a higher yield and supply each gardener with more options for customization. Hybrid tomatoes are what you'd generally find in a supermarket.
Roma tomatoes are a type of hybrid tomato called a "paste tomato." The name comes from their dense plum-like qualities -- sweet, firm flesh, and high pectin content, which makes them the perfect candidate for a thick tomato paste. Paste tomatoes are the go-to option when making great pasta sauces and pastes for your pizza. You can even cut Roma tomatoes in half, drizzle them in oil, and place them out in an oven set to 150 degrees to have a dried-out tomato that is rich in flavor and perfect to make a very sweet sauce.
How you grow your tomatoes will depend on the environment you live in, but because all classes of tomatoes can grow in either determinate or indeterminate ways, you won't be robbed of any potential flavors or recipes. Find out what works best for you and your location, and start growing those delicious fruits.