September 9, 2021

How to choose the best tomato for your patch

There’s nothing more delicious than a home-grown tommie but, with so many varieties now available, it can be difficult to choose what to plant in your veggie garden.

Growing tomatoes at home is fun and rewarding but, for many a novice gardener one of the biggest dilemmas is deciding which tomato variety to grow. Some home gardeners can be confused by terms such as indeterminate, F1 hybrid, heirloom or open-pollinated but, with a little knowledge, you can decode the labels and select the best tomato for your garden.

Determinate and Indeterminate tomatoes

Determinate tomatoes have a determinate growth or size, meaning they will generally stop getting bigger – making them ideal for containers. They also tend to bear the majority of their crop all at once, so all the fruit ripens over a short time span. Common examples of Determinate tomatoes are Roma and First Prize.

Indeterminate tomatoes essentially keep growing until the weather becomes too cold. Their fruit will ripen over an extended period of time, resulting in a steady supply of fruit for longer. These varieties tend to get larger (some over two metres) than determinate varieties so will require staking and support. Common varieties in this group include Apollo, Cherry and Grosse Lisse just to name a few.

Open-pollinated, hybrid and heirloom varieties

Open-pollinated varieties have not been genetically modified in any way but can be more prone to disease. Seed collected from the plant will remain true to type.

Hybrid varieties (commonly referred to as F1) have generally been created to breed a desired trait such as disease resistance, etc. Seed collected however will not be true to type.

Heirloom varieties must be open pollinated, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. Generally, an heirloom variety is an old-fashioned favourite and, are said to taste “like tomatoes did in the good old days”.

Container grown or in the ground?

Almost all tomato varieties can be successfully grown in a container if the container is large enough. Having said that, you must also consider the mature height of a variety and if it requires staking or trellis support. Determinate varieties are usually more suited to container growing with several new “patio” varieties being released each year.

Basic growing tips

In South Australia, all tomatoes should be planted in the morning sun and afternoon shade, or with some form of protection when days reach 40 degrees or greater. The exception to this is in cooler parts of South Australia such as the Adelaide Hills where full sun is preferable. Make sure your soil has plenty of good organic fertiliser in it to get the plants off to a good start.

All tomatoes are best staked. Really, all varieties should have 180cm stakes unless otherwise specified. Tall varieties can be pruned back to two leaders. Regular harvesting encourages new fruit.

Deep water your plants as required, depending on weather conditions and location. Do not water too much, as fruit will mark. Fertilise your plants to encourage growth. Mulch and use tomato dust for grubs and pests and a simple spray of soapy water can be used to control aphids and whitefly.

Remember to ask your local independent garden centre for advice and help with any concerns or questions you have in looking after your tomatoes.

Here are some popular varieties, available in South Australian garden centres.

(HLM) Heirloom, (OP) Open Pollinated, (HYB) Hybrid, (D) Determinate, (ID) Indeterminate.

An early indeterminate variety that requires staking. Apollo Improved is a more disease-resistant variety of the Apollo tomato, and has firm fruit that will set in cooler temperatures. Mild flavour with low acidic taste.

Open-pollinated mid-season variety that grows to approx 1.5m in height. Very solid fruit, great for slicing and perfect in sandwiches or salads.

One of the only round, black cherries available and a very productive tomato. Fruit are brown at maturity and red/brown internally when cut with a sweet, rich full flavour common to all the Russian Black tomatoes.

Is a great late season option fruiting well into the cooler months. A 1.5-2m bush with good size crops that also grows well hydroponically.

Ideal container tomato that grows to about 50cm in height, sets prolific trusses of fruit in the mid-late season.

One of Australia’s most loved tomatoes that can grow anywhere from 2-3.5m in height if supported well. Fruit is best picked with a hint of pink and ripened indoors or the acid levels rise, however if you like the wild taste, then allow to sun ripen on the vine.

This is an F1 hybrid also known as Carmelo. It is a very strong indeterminate bush that will easily make 3.5m, but is best pruned hard when it is young to induce a more manageable habit. The tasty globular 8-10cm fruits literally push each other off the massive trusses.

Has a very bushy habit up to 1m in height, with mid-season egg-shaped fruit. Very popular variety for saucing and cooking.

A vigorous mid to late season variety that produces plentiful tasty, red cherry-type fruits on long trusses. Can grow up to 2m tall so needs supporting and fruit can split with over-watering, so they are best picked regularly.

Large bush growing 2-2.5m in height, requiring support. Produces masses of apricot size fruit over an extended period that have an excellent sweet flavour.

Mid-season variety that requires staking, growing to 1-1.5m. It has a rich, sweet flavour making it ideal for salads and is commonly used in sauces and pastes also.

Golden yellow fruit on trusses, great in salads and also preserve well. High yields of fruit continuing through until cold weather.

Grows to about 1m with an abundance of green striped fruits that have a creamy texture to their flesh.

Similar size to the Green Zebra with a red/yellow striped skin. Huge producer of exceptional flavour fruit.

Impossible to pronounce but well worth growing. The creamy-yellow coloured fruit has a spicy-sweet flavour with this variety being highly productive.

Information supplied by Living Colour Nursery, Penfield, suppliers of seedlings to South Australian Garden Centres

This story first appeared in the SALIFE Gardens & Outdoor Living Spring 2020 issue.


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