Tomatoes 101: Quick Tips for Choosing the Right Garden Tomato

Overwhelmed by all the different tomato varieties you can grow? Don't know which to choose? Don't call the whole thing off! Make your choice easier with these tomato tips!

By Deborah Zelasny

 

You say “tomato” and I say “tomahto,” but how do we tell these chubby garden favorites apart? There are more than 7,000 varieties of tomatoes in the world today, and choosing which ones you want to grow can be a little confusing. Below are some simple tips to help you pick the right tomatoes for your garden.

 

Tomato Varieties

When purchasing tomato plants or seeds to grow in your garden, you may stumble upon hundreds of choices. Don’t be frightened off by all of the complex names given to these ketchup fruits. Tomatoes are given different names to distinguish between their growth periods, textures, sizes, and flavors. Read up on the details of any tomato you’re thinking of choosing. They’re usually provided on the seed packet or on a garden stick. They’ll tell you how long it takes the plant to grow (varies from roughly 54 to 80 days), the size of the tomato (small to extra large) and the color/skin (red, pink, and yellow varieties, just to name a few).

 

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Tomato Growth

The beefsteak and big boy varieties are the top-rated tomatoes in terms of growth rate.

 

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Beefsteak tomatoes

 

Beefsteaks are known for their thinner skin and large kidney-bean-like shape. Big boys are famous for their shiny red appearance and juiciness. The beefsteak and big boy are great for sandwiches because they’re easy to slice. You can find variations of these tomatoes under other names such as beefmaster, better boy, better girl, and early girl.

 

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Big boy tomatoes 

 

Plum, Grape, and Cherry Tomatoes

Plum tomatoes, which resemble an oblong plum, are red in color and are often used in sauces and pastes. Cherry tomatoes are smaller than plum tomatoes with sweet juicy centers. They are favorites for garden salads and appetizers. Many varieties of cherry tomatoes exist for gardeners, including the sweet 100, cherry red, and supersweet, just to name a few. Why so many names? Again, tomatoes vary in harvest time, size, and color. You'll need to think about when you want to harvest your tomatoes or what you’re using them for when choosing what to plant in your garden. Grape tomatoes are also oblong in shape, but smaller than plum tomatoes. They’re good for salads due to their sweet flavor and appearance.

 

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Cherry tomateos

 

Yellow and Acid-Free Tomatoes

As if growing and purchasing red tomatoes wasn't confusing enough, you might stumble upon a yellow tomato — sometimes deemed an “acid-free” tomato. For those who love tomatoes but have difficulty digesting such an acidic food, the yellow tomato might be a good alternative. While they have less acid content, they’re still rich in flavor, make good sauces, and can be used in salads. Tomatoes can also be found in shades of pink, purple, and permanent green. They’re widely used throughout the world, but not quite as common in the United States.

 

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Don't be afraid to ask a local farmer for advice about choosing the perfect tomato. If you’re visiting a farmers’ market or a local farm stand, ask a farmer's opinion on the right tomato for you. Many of them have been growing and harvesting tomatoes for decades, and they have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to their crops. They’re usually quite proud to share what they know on the subject of tomatoes!

 

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