Tomato Seed Buying 101
Congratulations on your decision to take your health into your own hands and put out a garden this year! Tomatoes are an excellent choice, and you know full well that store-bought tomatoes are nothing compared to homegrown. Make Mamaw proud and impress your friends with your green thumb when you reap a bountiful harvest this year.
With over 500 varieties to choose from at Seeds ‘n Such, you might find yourself a little overwhelmed. But don’t worry! We’ve got you covered. Read on to understand what sets our tomatoes apart, and what characteristics differentiate them from one another.
It’s difficult to nail down exactly how many types of tomatoes there are, but generally speaking, tomatoes fall into one of a few different categories based on size, shape, color, growing habit, and typical culinary use. When buying tomato seeds, take into account your hardiness zone (if you don’t know your growing zone go here).
Now–let’s demystify tomato buying!
Indeterminate v. determinate
You may be most familiar with vining tomatoes, or indeterminate varieties. Tomatoes that are indeterminate continue to grow until they are killed by frost. These are the tomatoes that need constant trellising–if you don’t give them something to climb, these vigorous growers will spread on the ground and might overtake your other garden rows! Some of the most popular tomatoes are indeterminate, like Pineapple and Giant Oxheart.
Determinate tomatoes are more like bush beans in their growth pattern. Also called dwarf or compact tomatoes, these cultivars reach a certain height and stop growing. Determinate tomatoes tend to produce fruit and stop producing earlier than indeterminate varieties. Determinate tomatoes like Tumbler or Siberian are better suited to container gardens.
Of course, tomatoes can also be semi-determinate–meaning, they have qualities of both determinate and indeterminate varieties.
Tomatoes are a versatile plant, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a way that this delicious fruit can’t be cooked (or eaten).
There are a few general categories that you should consider when choosing which tomatoes to grow. Round slicer tomatoes like Siletz or Homeslice Hybrid are absolutely delicious sliced and thrown on a sandwich. The largest slicers, called beefsteaks (or Buffalosteak), are so mouthwatering atop a mayonnaise sandwich that you won’t even miss the meat!
Plum-shaped sauce tomatoes like Roma and Amish paste are meant to be cooked down into marinara sauce or salsas–these are excellent tomatoes for canning and freezing.
Cocktail tomatoes fall somewhere in between slicers and paste tomatoes in size, and folks love to grill these tomatoes to accentuate their sweet taste. Mountain Magic is a favorite.
Salad tomatoes, like Rainbow Cherry, add flavor and texture to salads–if they even make it to the dinner table. These sweet tomatoes are best enjoyed directly in the garden, straight off the vine.
Don’t limit yourself–buy a few of each type to find out your favoriTes!
Another fun thing to consider when picking out tomatoes is the assortment of colors! And these colors arent just easy on the eyes–each range of shades signals a different flavor profile. Pink and red tomatoes have that classic, fresh from the garden taste. Black and purple tomatoes have an earthy, bitter taste reminiscent of chocolate. Orange and yellow tomatoes have a mild, fruity taste profile.
Days to maturity
Another thing to consider when purchasing tomato seeds is days to maturity. This number will almost always be listed on the packet or description online. Tomatoes, again, fall into one of three categories–early season, mid-season, or late-season varieties.
Going from the date of transplanting (not the date of seed-starting), early-season varieties mature in 50-60 days, mid-season in 60-80 days, and late-season cultivars take more than 80 days to produce fruit.
If you live in a colder region with a shorter season, opt for early-season varieties and start your seeds indoors to extend your harvest window.
Tomato blight is an unavoidable hazard of growing your own tomatoes. This fungal disease affects tomato foliage, discoloring leaves, interrupting fruit production, and slowly killing the plant.
Fortunately, Seeds ‘n Such has several tomato varieties, like the Defiant Hybrid, with superior genetics that better equip the plant to resist blight.
Are you seeing identifiers like hybrid, heirloom, open-pollinated, and organic?
This is where it gets confusing, so let’s unpack some of these terms together. The first thing to understand is the difference between a hybrid and open-pollinated variety, as it's unlikely for one cultivar to be both.
Hybrids are the result of crossing two different parent varieties. Hybrids are generally bred to capture the best desirable qualities of their parents–like disease resistance, high production, or early yield.
While hybrids are intentionally crossed, open-pollinated varieties come from crosses that happen in nature–from pollen transferred from plant to plant by wind, insects, or even birds. Open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse and tend to adapt to their environments more quickly than hybrid varieties.
An heirloom variety (like this one) is an open-pollinated cultivar that has been grown for at least 50 years, typically passed down by the same family or in the same region.
The term organic simply refers to how a plant is grown. Seeds labeled organic are processed, harvested, and grown according to the USDA’s standards on organic production. An organic label generally means that the crop was never exposed to synthetic chemicals.
Now that you understand how to type any given tomato, you should feel empowered to pick out the best tomato seeds for your garden. You can still buy seed packets that look pretty, but at least you know what all those labels on the seed packet mean!Ready for the next step? Check out this guide for more information on how to grow healthy tomato plants from seed.