The Joy of Tomatoes

Nothing says summer like a tomato fresh from the garden, but what are the things that are needed to know to be able to grow the best tomato?    

Tomato Terms

Determinate is a plant that reaches a mature height and blooms roughly all at once and produces one crop all at once. These tend to be more compact plants and a good option for a small garden space. (Bush Big Boy, Viva Italia Hybrid, and many of the patio types.) These are also good selections for canning.

Indeterminate are plants that produce a continuous crop until frost. (Better Boy and Brandywine) These plants continue to grow and can become quite large, these need to be staked or caged.

Heirlooms are old varieties introduced before 1940. Heirlooms come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and shapes. Seeds have been passed from generations to generations.

Hybrids are a cross of multiple tomato varieties. Hybrids are created for specific features like taste, size, disease resistance and plant vigor. Fruit from these plants tend to be fairly uniform. Seeds from these plants tend to be sterile.

Tomato types

Standard- Slicing: Medium sized tomatoes, generally about the size of a fist. These are great for slicing for a salad or on a sandwich.

Cherry: Generally smaller than a golf ball and about the size of a cherry – hence the name. Plants yields are high, so having more than two plants could mean you’ll spend as much time giving tomatoes away as you do eating them yourself.  These are great on salads, cooked as part of a kebab or just eaten as a snack by the handful.

Plum: These tend to be small and elongated in shape. These contain less juice and more meat, making them great for creating tomato paste and thick sauces.

Beefsteak: Big on taste and size, these are large tomatoes. If taken to the extreme, a gardener can grow up to three-pound Beefsteak tomatoes.

Yellow: These are less acidic than the red tomatoes, so they taste sweeter. These are rich in vitamin C and potassium but lack lycopene. An interesting point is that their salt content is two to three times higher than the red.  


  • Plant after the frost-free date for your area, it is about the soil temperature not the air temperature. The foliage of your plants will turn purple if the soil is too cold.
  • Tomatoes should be planted slightly deep so that the first set of leaves is sitting on the ground. Removing that set of leaves after planting will yield a stronger and stockier plant.
  • Keep moisture at a consistent level to help prevent blossom end rot.
  • Plant in full sun (more than six hours of direct sunlight).
  • Plant at least three to four feet apart to give yourself enough room for all sides of the plant to get sunlight and for you to walk around will harvesting.  


  • Don’t refrigerate tomatoes. Tomatoes stored at less than 50 degrees lose their flavor and texture.
  • Tomatoes and their family members (eggplant, peppers and potatoes) should never be planted in the same place two years in a row (three years is better). There are soil borne diseases that affect these plants that can over winter in the soil.
  • Stake or cage the plants at planting so you don’t disturb the roots and the foliage later.
  • Water often and be sure to soak the soil at least six inches deep.
  • If you want to grow BIG fruit, remove the side suckers. If the number of tomatoes produced is what you care about, just let the suckers stay.
  • In the fall be sure to clean up tomato plants and any residue to help with controlling insects and diseases the next year.
  • If growing tomatoes in a container, you will need the container to hold at least five gallons of soil per plant.

Tomatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow in the home garden.  All they need are plenty of sunshine, water and a little TLC. These growing tips should help you to have a great crop of juicy, tasty tomatoes. And if you can’t eat them all, give some away to those non-gardeners or make and can tomato sauce for the winter.  

Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.