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Types of Tomatoes – An Introduction to Tomato Growing Part 1

One of the most rewarding crops you can grow is the tomato. The taste of a fresh picked sun warm tomato is legendary and far superior to anything you can buy in the supermarket.

Plum TomatoesUnfortunately, tomatoes are not the easiest crop and are often misunderstood but tomatoes are well worth growing in the UK – even with our cool climate and uncertain weather.

Now the tomato is originally a South American plant (it’s true!) that requires better weather than we can usually offer. If you can provide shelter, such as a greenhouse, polytunnel or grow house you will get the benefit of a longer season, some pest and disease protection and a better ripened crop.

You can successfully grow tomatoes outdoors in the British climate but it is less certain. Tomatoes require a minimum temperature of 10deg C and high light intensity to grow. They are not hardy at all and even a light frost will both kill the plant and ruin the fruit.

Tomato Types and Varieties

The first thing to decide is what varieties you wish to grow. The tomatoes you buy from the supermarket are chosen for their travelling and keeping qualities, probably grown abroad and fed with inorganic chemicals. Taste may be factored in some way down the list of their choice.

As you will only be transporting a few yards and keeping for a day or two you can ignore those factors and concentrate on the taste and ease of growing. Some tomato varieties are better suited to a greenhouse environment and others more able to grow outdoors in our climate.

There are a huge number of tomato varieties and types of tomatoes to choose from. Some are tried and true standards that produce consistent fruit similar to those you find in the shop and others a little different. I have yet to see Sungold in a shop to buy but it is one of the most flavourful sweet small salad tomatoes you will taste.

Heirloom Tomatoes (Heritage Tomatoes)

These are older and often rare varieites prized for their flavour. More information on Growing Heirloom Tomatoes

Types of Tomatoes

Cordon or Indeterminate Tomato Varieties

These tend to be the most grown types, usually tied to a cane or string and the side shoots are removed to ensure the plants energy goes into the fruit rather than foliage. When a number of trusses (The plant stalk that bears the flowers and fruit) are set, the plant is stopped to allow the fruit a chance to ripen before the end of the season.

Bush or Determinate Tomato Varieties

Bush tomatoes differ in that they do not need side shoots removing and are effectively self stopping. The drawback of this is that they take up more room and are not so suitable for growing in pots. They do not generally require much or any support but the fruits are often in contact with the ground, which means more vulnerable to slugs and other pests. They can, in poor years, leave you with more green and under-developed fruits but you can compensate for this if you can get them off to an early start.

Dwarf Bush or ‘Hanging Basket’ Tomatoes

Unlike the standard determinate varieties of tomato, these are smaller plants usually giving cherry tomatoes and are bred to grow in containers such as hanging baskets. My experience is that they can be very successful.

Tomato Fruit Types

As well as plant types there are quite a number of different tomato fruit types. As a home grower, you can find many different – some weird and wonderful – varieties but the main types of fruit are listed below:

  • Standard – the ‘normal’ tomato, spherical in shape and around an inch to an inch and a half in diameter.
  • Cherry – just a small version of the normal tomato, often marble sized. Often from dwarf bush types.
  • Beefsteak – a large version of the normal tomato. Because of their large size, these tomato varieties take longer to mature and ripen so really do not do well except in a greenhouse.
  • Plum – the firm fleshed oval shaped fruit you find in Italian canned tomatoes. Tend to have been bred to store well as bottled (or canned) and they freeze well. (See Storing the Surplus)
  • Marmande – large irregular shaped tomatoes. Often very tasty.
  • Oxheart – cone shaped fruits, usually firm fleshed and good flavour.

Tomato Colours

Tomatoes come in a range of colours from deep reds through orange (often described as yellow) to bright yellow with some rarer varieties being striped, green when ripe and very dark purple to black.

Colour has little to do with flavour – my favourite tomato, Sungold, is orange but other yellow tomatoes I have tasted are not very nice which may or may not be related to the colour

Take a look at the range of tomatoes seeds available here in the allotment shop

Further Information: Tomato Growing Guides