Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most popular veggie grown in home gardens.  They are very nutritious, both packed with vitamins A and C. People not only enjoy them raw, in salads or on sandwiches, but they are also used in many cooked dishes. In this section we will discuss the types of tomatoes, some varieties of tomatoes, and what to do with your garden to Make Your Garden Great Again. 

Different Types


Determinate tomatoes are those that 'top-themselves". Around 3 - 4 feet the terminal bud forms a flower and the plant does not grow any taller. A lot of fruit is set over a couple weeks, and ripens over a concentrated harvest interval (normally four or five weeks). Determinate tomatoes are easier to manage in a home garden.  They make a good choice if you want many tomatoes at one time.  This would be great for canning purposes!

Variety: Early Girl
Growth Habit: Determinate
Days to Harvest: 58
Fruit Type, Color, Est. Size:
Slicer, red, 4 - 5 oz.

Variety: Celebrity 

Growth Habit: Determinate

Days to Harvest: 75 

Fruit Type, Color, Est. Size: 

Slicer, red, 7 - 8 oz.


Indeterminate tomatoes grow taller and produce fruit throughout summer and fall.  The will require 5 - 6 foot stakes or cages to help support them as they get taller. Indeterminate tomatoes are good for fresh eating as they produce through the season. The fruit produced on this type is usually softer with thinner walls.

Variety: Better Boy
Growth Habit: Indeterminate
Days to Harvest: 75
Fruit Type, Color, Est. Size:
Slicer, red, 12 oz. 

Variety: Pink Girl
Growth Habit: Indeterminate  
Days to Harvest: 72
Fruit Type, Color, Est. Size:
Slicer, pink, 8 oz.  

Variety: Supersweet 100
Growth Habit: Indeterminate
Days to Harvest: 65
Fruit Type, Color, Est. Size:
Cherry, red, <1 oz.

Variety: Juliet
Growth Habit: Indeterminate
Days to Harvest: 60
Fruit Type, Color, Est. Size:
Grape, red, 1 - 2 oz.

Heirloom or Hybrid


The definition of heirlooms can vary, but they often are pre-WWII varieties. Heirlooms come from seed that has been handed down generation to generation. Most were hand chosen by gardeners due to a specific trait, or its hardiness in the region. Sometimes open pollinated and heirloom is used interchangeably. It is important to note that while ALL heirlooms are open-pollinated, NOT ALL open-pollinated plants are heirlooms. Open-pollinated means that it can be pollinated without human interaction, it is pollinated by insects and wind. You can depend on heirloom plants to stay stable in their characteristics. When you save seeds from an heirloom tomato to replant the next season, you will get the same tomato again, provided you didn’t accidentally cross pollinate by planting near other varieties. Open-pollinated plants also will reproduce true to the parent plant. Many newer open-pollinated are technically hybrids that have stabilized to produce true.

Most people agree that you get a better flavor from heirloom tomatoes. It is also not a secret that heirlooms do not always produce the “prettiest” fruit. With heirloom tomatoes, sometimes the harvest time is less predictable, and fruit size can vary greatly, even on the same plant.  Heirlooms sport different shapes, sizes and even colors, including black, green, red, pink, orange, white, yellow, purple, and even striped.



A simple explanation of hybrid varieties is, a variety that has been intentionally created by cross breeding 2 or more varieties to take on the positive traits of the original parent plants. There are a few different types of hybrids An F1 Hybrid is a first-generation cross hybrid. An F2 hybrid is a cross of 2 F1 hybrids. If you try to save and plant seeds from these hybrids, they WILL NOT produce a plant with the same characteristics as your first planting. There are open-pollinated varieties that have stabilized, and produce a plant with similar characteristics as the first planting. The purpose of hybrid plants is the hope of featuring the best qualities of the parent plants. Some qualities that are considered favorable are: dependability, less required care, early maturity, larger yields, improved flavor, and disease resistance. 

While most people agree that an heirloom has a better flavor, they may be a few exceptions to the rule. For example, Sun Gold is a hybrid, yellow, cherry tomato that is sweet and delicious. You may have to taste a lot of tomatoes, but you will find some hybrids with great flavor! Because hybrids are bred for their favorable qualities, they produce larger yields, are more disease resistant, and are much more predictable than the heirloom varieties. Hybrid varieties once harvested, also hold up better than the heirlooms, this is why most of the tomatoes you see in stores are hybrid.  

Both heirloom and hybrid varieties have benefits and downfalls.  You have to decide which variety is best suited for you and your location.  At Needham's we have a large selection of both Heirlooms and Hybrids.

Tomato Tips

Preparing Your Site

Properly preparing your soil is one of the most important things you can do in any garden.  Tomatoes do well in a medium-textured, well drained soil.  You can have your soil tested, and you can amend your soil as needed by your garden's demands.

Did you know...?  You do not want to plant your vegetables in the same location for two consecutive years.  With tomatoes, it is recommended that you plant in the same area only every 3 - 4 years.  Some diseases and insects can be greatly reduced, just by changing locations. This will not eliminate any problems, but it can help.  Some crops to grow in the in between years might be,  pumpkins, squash, sweet corn, beans, and peas.

Giving Your Tomatoes Support

The best tomatoes come from plants that are correctly supported. A tomato can be supported with either stakes or cages. If you choose to use stakes, use a durable hardwood about 4-5 feet for determinate types or 6-8 feet for indeterminate types. You should aim to have 1 foot of the stake in the ground for stability. Use a cloth or string material to gently tie the tomato plant to the stake. You will want to attach/tie the plant to the stake about every 8-10 inches. If you choose to use cages, make sure you use a material that can support your full-grown plants, such as concrete reinforcing wire. A 6-foot length of wire will give you cage about 21 inches in diameter. Make sure that cages are well anchored, and that the material you use has wide enough openings for harvesting ripe fruit. Usually, plants that use cages have a higher yield per plant.  

Common Challenges

No crop goes without having their own set of challenges. With tomatoes, some of the challenges you may face are blossom end rot, misshapen fruit, and cracking.  

Blossom end rot is a leather-like decay of the blossom end of the fruit. There are several ways of reducing blossom end rot, most of these ways are based on maintain proper calcium levels in the fruit. Blossom end rot can also be reduced if tomato plants are not pruned too heavily, and if they are not fertilized too heavily. 

Misshapen fruit can be caused by poor pollination, or even temperatures below 50° F. The low temps, especially at night lead to poor pollination, but warm temps or humidity can also impact pollination. 

Cracking can appear down the fruit, or in rings around the top of the fruit. Cracking can be related to many different things, but it’s most often linked to water issues and irregular patterns in growth. Hybrid varieties are less prone to cracking than the older heirloom varieties.