Cherry tomatoes get their name from their size: At about 1 inch in diameter, they measure roughly the same size as cherries. These are a good bet for both traditional garden sites and for container gardening. Red, yellow and orange varieties are all available. Though the fruits are small, the plants tend to produce far longer than larger varieties, often pumping out teensy tomatoes without human intervention even after fall’s first frost.
This cooking classic is typically a longer, blockier tomato than its relatively round kin. It’s also less juicy, which can be a disadvantage for eating fresh. But that drier flesh makes it ideal for cooking down into sauce, since there’s less liquid to cook away
“Midsize are the most flavorful, I think,” Mary Kay Woodworth says by way of explaining why this type is the most popular. Woodworth, the master gardener program coordinator for the DeKalb County Cooperative Extension Service in Georgia, was among several extension agents who mentioned midsize varieties like ‘Better Boy’ and ‘Better Bush’ as top picks. Midsize tomatoes range anywhere from 6 to 12 ounces and are available in the largest range of colors: red, purple, yellow, orange, green with stripes and even white. Juicier than paste tomatoes, they’re popular sliced into salads, on sandwiches, and just about anywhere else you might want some tomato flavor. You can cook them down into sauces, although it’ll take more tomatoes and more time than if you used the less-juicy paste types. And you can preserve them — think tomato salsa, tomato ketchup, pickled green tomatoes.
Beefsteaks aren’t necessarily the most beautiful tomatoes you’ll ever see. In pursuit of a fruit that weighs anywhere from 1 to 4 pounds, hybridizers largely gave up on the smooth, unblemished, perfectly round tomato that supermarkets stock. They take a long time to grow — 80 days or so for the first harvest. If you’re not in an area with warm summer days and nights, forget about it.
Indeterminate: Tomato plant grows throughout the summer, forming a vine that requires cages and/or stakes for support. Plants bear fruit throughout the summer, though less at any one time than determinate types.
- Determinate: Also known as “bush type.” Tomato plant grows to a certain height and then stops. Plants need less support, but only bear fruit for about a month.
Semideterminate: Tomato plant grows larger than bush types, but smaller than true indeterminates. Plants require staking.
Heirloom: An open-pollinated variety that was introduced at least 50 years ago. Seeds of heirloom plants produce new plants with the same traits as the parent.
Hybrid: The offspring of two different varieties of plants, generally having desirable traits from both of the original varieties. Replanting seeds from a hybrid fruit will generally yield a plant inferior to the original.