Just like in the tropics, a northeast summer announces its firm arrival with a sweet, juicy fruit. It comes in a rainbow of bright colors: red, orange, yellow, green, purple, and black; and a wide array of exotic shapes. Its taste ranges from fit-for-dessert sugary to a citrus-like tang to smoky and salty. In our catalog alone, there are 35 different varieties to choose from just this year. And, although it is still too cold for these delicate plants to move outside, now is the time to start tomato seeds indoors. So, how to go about deciding on which tomato is right for your garden? Answer the questions below to help you decide on the best varieties for your garden.
1. How big is your garden? Tomatoes are divided mainly into two growth habits. Determinate varieties are bushy: they usually grow to 2 or 3 feet, then slow down and focus on ripening their fruits. Indeterminate tomatoes are vining: they multitask by ripening fruit while at the same time growing taller and taller, stopped only by frost or a pruner. Determinate varieties do better in containers and limited spaces as well as for gardeners looking for one big tomato harvest over two to three weeks. For fresh picked tomatoes, ripening consistently over a few months, indeterminate are best, if you have the space for staking and letting the vines stretch out.
2. How will you eat them? Nothing compares to a fresh summer tomato just like nothing compares to a tomato craving in February. If beautiful summer salads are your goal, try Upstate Oxheart, Green Zebra, Cosmonaut Volkov, or Black Krim.. Yellow Pear Cherry and Fox Cherry are perfect for one bite tomato snacks (though Fox Cherry may be more of a two-biter). Cherry and beefsteak types are usually indeterminate. They produce delicious fruit from July up until frost. For preserving, varieties that aren’t too juicy and have a short season (so a large batch of fruit ripens at once) make canning easiest. (You can devote a couple of weekends to preserving, then finish for the year, admire your full pantry, and go back to eating fresh sliced summer treats.) Try Mama Leone or Opalka for making sauce or canning whole. Principe Borghese are a perfect drying tomato (read the description page for a simple drying method if you have a hatchback, but no dehydrator).
3. When do you want them? Tomatoes ripen in 45 to 90 days. To have a tomato harvest for as long as possible, choose varieties that ripen at different times. The New Yorker tomato knows about New York's short growing season and ripens early – in about 60 days from transplant. In general, tomatoes with smaller fruit will be ready first – the truly tiny Tiny Tim is ready to eat in 45 days, while larger ones take longer – hefty Stone Ridge, for example, takes its time, about 90 days.