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Tomato Question

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
We have one tomato that is almost ripe. It's a bright orange color but I don't think it's quite ready yet. Les told me last night that it needs to be picked so the plant doesn't think it needs to stop producing more tomatoes. He said if you let it completely ripen on the vine, the plant will stop growing more. Growing up, we grew tomatoes every year in the garden and picked them when completely ripe. I don't remember if they still grew more tomatoes or not.

Can anyone tell me which is the correct way? I really want to can tomatoes so don't want to do anything to jeopardize more tomatoes! I think this is probably an Early Girl but not certain.
post #2 of 20
there are "determinate" and "indeterminate" tomato types.

indeterminates never stop growing - the stem / branches / flowers continue to grow until frost gets them or they go over the fence and the envelop the neighbor's house. Early Girl is of this type.

determinate types stop with the green growth once they start blooming. plant does not continue to grow / sprawl wildly about - but does continue to bloom and produce fruit.

for either type, leave the fruit on the vine until ripe for best taste.

the "it stop growing / blooming / producing" thought is not accurate, technically it is true that every fruit saps a little strength that elsewise could go into producing more fruits. tomatoes are sufficiently vigorous that it is not really a consideration.....
post #3 of 20
Allie, this is one of those cases where everybody is right, sort of.

First off, forget about determinate tomatoes. Unless you are a serious collector, the average home gardener will never see one. There just aren't that many varieties of determinates.

So let's talk about standard, indeterminate, 'maters.

Every plant has a maximum fruit load point. Doesn't matter whether it's a tomato plant, or a pepper plant, or a pole bean vine, or a cucumber. At some point the fruit load is such that the plant signals itself: Hey! Enough already. You need to put your energy into ripening these fruits.

Keep in mind, too, that from a plant's point of view, "ripe" means "production of viable seed." That point may or may not be the same as what you mean by ripe---which is, ready to eat.

So, on one hand, Les is correct. Ripening fruits can be a signal that productivity will stop.

But, on the other hand, you're right, too, because the maximum fruit load isn't reached with one or two---or even ten---tomatoes. The plant will be covered with fruit, in various stages of ripeness, before it calls it quits. And you'll know it because current flowers will abort, and new ones won't appear.

Besides which, to jumpstart a plant that's stopped producing only takes one thing: Pick some of the fruit. Within a couple of days you'll see new blossoms appear, and new fruit developing.

The long and the short of it is that this is a dynamic which can be observed, but which the home gardener need not worry about. Let your tomatoes ripen on the vine, so you get maximum enjoyment out of eating them.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #4 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the explanations! The plants we have came from Walmart.......not the best supplier, I know but was what was available by the time it warmed up enough here to actually plant. This season has been a bit strange with frost into late May and even now, lower temps. Last night was a low of 58!

Anyway, I have in the past ripened tomatoes on my windowsill (have a storebought tomato there now) but the flavor just isn't as good to me as vine ripened. I guess because that's what I grew up eating! I'm going to leave it on there until I know it's ready. That particular plant doesn't have very many tomatoes yet but there are new blossoms. We're just starting to see tomatoes on all our plants and last year, I was canning in August and September so know it's still early yet.

Thanks again!

We're planning to buy some grow lights this winter and start our own seeds next spring. Our house is too shaded to grow much indoors without a grow light and I've lost a few houseplants since moving here.

I'd love some good recommendations on the best types to get for next year. Last year, I bought canning tomatoes (long story but it was a shared garden between 3 families and one family invited everyone they knew to come take what they wanted since the garden was in their yard). The man I bought them from would only tell me they were a "numbered hybrid". These were the most beautiful tomatoes.....mostly uniform in size, about like a baseball, prefectly red, very small cores, just beautiful. They were also delicious to eat raw or cooked into sauces, etc. I just want something that's good to can in quarters and also to make puree or juice. Of course, we love our raw tomatoes, too!
post #5 of 20
......First off, forget about determinate tomatoes. Unless you are a serious collector, the average home gardener will never see one. There just aren't that many varieties of determinates.

not so fast there hairloomer <g>

many (most?) of the "bush" types - cherry / romas / etc or stuff marketed especially for "container / small space gardening" are determinate. it is not especially difficult to trip over these in just about any "we sell gardening" places - especially as the marketing twits like to hype them as neat compact easy grow this in your leftover shoe boxes and have fresh tomatoes all year . . . .

the small space / compact / bush / no trellis / "no visible means of support required" marketing hype makes them (determinates) especially attractive to "a group of people" -

now, I applaud the group for wanting to get out of the megamart offerings - regrets they are usually not aware those kinds of plants yield in a more compact time frame. how many cherry tomatoes can one eat, this week?

but anyway, grow'em, eat'em, any type is better than the wooden megmart variety.
post #6 of 20
Mebbe so, Dilbert. But laid against the 6,000 or so named tomato varieties, what are a handful of bush types?

More to the point, I have never seen those varieties outside of a nursery. The garden centers at Walmart, Lowes, and similar box stores don't offer them. At least not around here. I wonder if Bonnie even grows them???

Question: Are those truly determinates, the way, say, Southern Nights is a determinate? Or do they just bear in flushes? That is, if you picked all the fruit at one time, is it all over but the shouting? Or will the plant put out another flush?

I'm not disagreeing with what you said, merely asking, as I don't know the answer.

I don't much care for cherry tomatoes anyway. 90% of them are far too sweet for my tastebuds. I mean, if I want a candy bar I'll go buy me a Snickers. Friend Wife, on the other hand, thinks they're the Mother's gift for keeping the garden weed-free. So we usually put in a plant or two for her.

Allie, I can't help you much with hybrids. Being as i refuse to put them in the ground, I don't keep up with names, numbers, or inflated claims.

As to growing indoors, my advice is that you forego the grow lights as such. They are 1. expensive, 2. unnecessary, and 3. have to be replaced often.

A shoplight with regular cool-white bulbs is all you need. And, despite what some sources say, do not replace them every year. So long as they are burning, they will provide enough light for seedlings. I average 4-5 years use out of them.

If you have the space, my recommendation is that you rig two shop lights side-by-side over a shelf. That will give you ample light to handle 5 standard trays---more than enough to start almost everything going in your garden.

I would also get one or two of those under-tray heaters if you're going to start your own peppers. Tomatoes usually don't need them, but peppers germinate best in soil that's about 85 degrees.

Try your houseplants under the cool whites to see how they respond. If there are still problems, replace every other one with a warm bulb. But I don't think you'll need to go that route. Red light is usually needed by a plant for fruit ripening, but not for germination or growth in most cases.

Assuming the cool white works, I would then rig a spot over the plant, using one of those new-fangled screw-in flourescents to provide necessary light.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #7 of 20
......Mebbe so, Dilbert. But laid against the 6,000 or so named tomato varieties, what are a handful of bush types?

I've not seen any retail, wholesale or place else that has 100 varieties available, much less 60 times that.

so the "handful" are them there 'maters on that there cart o'er yonder. romas/plum/cherries -

I'd guesstimate 'them there's' to be 25% of the selections available in front of the shoppers nose - so "unlikely to encounter a determinate" me opines is a tad overdoing it, eh?

allie -

KYHeirloomer's advice on lighting etc is spot on. those expensive GroLux / bulbs lose their color spectrum in 6-9 months. plain ole fluorescent cool/warm-whites are fine. you need a rig where you can maintain the lights max 3-4 inches over the seedlings as they grow. (yes, that close - think lights hanging by chain from a hook.....)


after all this, determinates are not evil!

you mentioned canning - determinates tend to produce the majority of their crop over a shorter space of time vs. indeterminates.
so, while you got the pot out and hot, why _not_ plant a variety that's all ready about the same time.....?
if you start your own seedlings - highly recommended - you can duck soup easily pick the ones you want. I'm prone to patronizing the seed saver exchanges - they have a good cause.

nor are determinates devoid of taste. while skidding down the hill on the ice and snow, contemplating my sins and wondering if I'm gonna get stopped before sliding into cross traffic and kilt.... I often contemplate buying romas/plums in the market.

since they have less moisture (ie not so squishy) they pick/handle better - making them more apt to be vine ripe for 'the trade.' in my experience they are the best tasting fresh tomato available for salads and the like in the dead of winter.
post #8 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the suggestions! We have some long hanging lights that use the long tube type bulbs but I don't know how they would work for this. I'll definitely have to invest in the warmers because we love growing our own peppers. At upwards of $2.50 each for bells in the grocery store and over $2 per pound for jalapenos, bananas, etc. I'd rather grow my own. Last year the crop didn't do well but temps were much, much highe and it was a lot drier. This year looks to be better with lots of peppers forming right now. I think I'll be harvesting 5-10 bells within a week or so, maybe sooner if they keep growing like they have in the past few days.

I don't mind growing tomatoes that aren't hybrid. Of course, I'm curious about the ones I bought last year because there was so little waste from them. Nothing like the ones we grew that had lots of the hard green/white inside which I assume to be the core. It may be something else. My dad's tomatoes always had the same stuff inside them.

I planted cherry tomatoes last year and a couple of plants this year. Les accidentally bought 22 cherry plants this year and I gave away all but two. No way was I going to try and keep up with those little buggers! Just two plants and I was picking daily last year and trying to figure out what to do with them. I was so tired of them that I haven't eaten a single one since I finished those up last year. I'm sure this year will be more of the same. lol The lady I gave those plants to actually planted all of them. I feel for her when they all start ripening at the same time!
post #9 of 20
Thread Starter 
Dilbert, I'm definitely interested in the determinates you mentioned. Yes, I'd love to do all the canning at once instead of over the period of several weeks. Even better, if I can do it when the family is at home to help! I did over a bushel and a half alone in one day last year and I was beat at the end of the day and still had dinner to cook! That was my first time ever canning since I was maybe 15 years old helping my mom and grandma. The bug bit me hard last year and I'm looking forward to it this year. We're even planning to talk to the farmer who plants the field beside our house and see if he'll rent us the corner closest to us so we can grow more of the vegetables we love and put stuff away for winter.

Do you have any favorite varieties plus sources where I can buy the seeds?
post #10 of 20
>I'm prone to patronizing the seed saver exchanges - they have a good cause.<

Are you really? Then that would contradict where you say:

>I've not seen any retail, wholesale or place else that has 100 varieties available, much less 60 times that. <

Just a few examples. The Seed Savers Exchange 2008 Yearbook contains 192 pages of tomato seed offers, averaging 24-26 varieties per page. At the low end that works out to more than 4,600 varieties being offered by SSE members. And that's only about 2/3rd of the known, named varieties.

In the SSE public catalog this year there are 72 tomatos listed, slightly fewer than usual, but that's because their live-plant sales have taken up a lot of the slack. There were 13 varieties of live plants sold by SSE this year.

My friend Roger Postly, of Tomatoes Etc, grew 101 varities last year, all of which were available at the Farmers Market he sells at.

My local seed house, in any particular year, offers 30-40 tomato varieties. A nursery in Frankfort offers 8-12 Kentucky heirlooms alone (I know cuz I grow the seed for them) among who knows how many others. In Louisville a friend grows tomato plants for a 3-location nursery there. This year he started 80 varieties for them.

These are not unusual numbers anywhere.

My point is, you can't have it both ways. If you want to talk about nurseries and specialized outlets, then you have to go with the big numbers---and the handful of determinates gets lost in the shuffle.

If, on the other hand, if you want to talk about what's in front of the consumer's nose, then you have to talk about the box store garden centers, where I have never seen any of those types for sale. And, while they might have one or two of them mixed in with the Early Girls and Big Boys, certainly nothing on the order of 25%.

What is correct, of course, is that there's nothing evil about determinate tomatoes. Just the opposite, in fact. They have a very real place in the gardening scheme of things. As you pointed out, they make a lot of sense come canning time (well, not the cherries, IMO, but certainly the full-sized ones). But the determinate cherries can keep a dehydrator running for quite some time.

And some of the determinates can be the best tasting tomatoes of their type. The Southern Nights I referred to, for instance, wins the black tomato taste test hands down among everybody who's tried them.

>making them more apt to be vine ripe for 'the trade.<

I'm sorry, you've lost me here. With very rare exception (i.e., local hydroponically grown) no tomatoes for the trade---particularly in the winter---are anything near vine ripened. They are harvested green, kept in cold storage, and then passed through an ethylene gas environment so they change color just before delivery to the markets.

And, btw, when you see the words "vine-ripened" in the supermarket keep in mind that there's a Federally mandated definition involved. That definition, and what you and I, and especially Allie, call vine-ripened are radically different things. Allie's tomato, the one that started this discussion, is radically over-ripe by the Federal definition.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #11 of 20
.........Then that would contradict
only on the assumption that what I see I buy <g>

if you have specialized merchants in your area doing a bang-up job that's wonderful. that is not the case everywhere. I'm sure Roger is aware there is life outside of KY, but he does not sell at our markets.

looking back over my notes the only determinates I've grown are Celebrity - and that based on 'taste' of neighbor's batch, no habit. I tend to pick&putup as an ongoing thing as freezing is much less batch intensive than canning.
post #12 of 20
Thread Starter 
In talking to Les last night, he mentioned that some of our plants (maybe 6 or 8) are Rutgers which he "thinks" is one of the determinate types. Not sure and I think he picked those up at a local nursery after he bought the others. Walmart had Early Girls, either Big Boys or Better Boys (the kids took my little plastic identification markers out of the ground when they helped weed......grr), and the cherries.

I agree on the "vine-ripened". There's no way that a tomato could be picked when I say it's ripe and then be shipped hundreds of miles in storage to the grocery store. Going through several distribution centers and sitting for days in a box would certainly ensure an awful lot of rotted tomatoes and too much waste to be economical at all. I buy so-called vine ripened tomatoes during the winter and spring. I always end up putting them in the window sill for several days to a week so they get to a point where they're softer and more enjoyable.
post #13 of 20
Thread Starter 
Oops double post!
post #14 of 20
Actually, Allie, Rutgers is an heirloom.

It was developed at Rutgers University, using one of the old Campbells varieities and something else as a parent, and introduced in, IIRC, 1928. You're right, it is a determinate variety, as it was developed with commercial canners in mind.

Since then there have been several adaptations, and there are at least five Rutgers varieties generally available, including the original, an Improved Rutgers, and even a newer one that is actually a hybrid.

One thing to be careful of is to not confuse determinates with seasonal maturation. Tomatoes generally group into three matruation periods, identified as early season, mid-season, and late-season. Most of the standard determinates are early- to mid-season. Farmers love 'em because after harvest they can plow the plants in, then plant a follow up crop of some kind and still have time for it to mature.

But that doesn't mean that all mid-season tomatoes are determinate. It just means they have a genetic pre-disposition to ripen in late July/early August. After that, production slows down, but doesn't fully stop as it does with determinates.

And, just to confuse the issue further, Rutgers is a late-season variety. Depending where you are, and local conditions, we're talking 85-90 days to maturity.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #15 of 20
Thread Starter 
I'd really like to grow some varieties that ripen at different times. I'd love to have tomatoes earlier in the July 4th would be great! Then, I'd really like to be canning in late August/early September (when I was canning last year). By September, our temperatures are usually lower so it's much more comfortable heating up the kitchen. Of course, this year, the weather hasn't been typical of the past 10 years that I've lived here so it's been much cooler than usual. Canning right now wouldn't be a problem.

Can you suggest varieties that will give me early, mid, and late season tomatoes?
post #16 of 20
Give me a few more clues as to what you like, Allie, in terms of taste profiles, colors, shapes, and sizes and I'll see what I can do.

You might also try and find a copy of Carolyn Male's "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden." Although the book is seriously flawed in some places, none of that should touch you. And the information you want is all in there.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #17 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the book recommendation. I'll see if my library can get it for me.

As far as taste, well, I'd love to have early tomatoes that are good for using in salads or on sandwiches. Hearty tomato taste, large enough for a slice to fit well on a typical bun or slice of bread. I don't like a lot of the green core, not sure how to get around that but I can't stand the texture of it so refuse to eat it and I don't like a lot of waste. Is that just a part of the tomato itself or is it something to do with the soil in which it's grown?

For canning, some of the tomatoes we canned from our own plants last year were really watery. I'd like something that's more substantial. I do can some in puree or juice but mostly prefer to can in quarters for use in stewed tomatoes, soups, etc.

It's hard for me to put into words what the perfect tomato for me consists of. I hate the watered down flavor of storebought tomatoes so want a good tomato taste. I don't know anything about the different colored, green, striped, etc. as I've only ever eaten bold red colored tomatoes.
post #18 of 20
In practical terms, Stupice is probably the earliest tomato you'll be able to grow. Unfortunately, like most early season tomatoes, it's on the smallish side: 3-4 ounces, growing in clusters of three to five.

Matina is another early season red, weighing in at 3-5 ounces, in clusters of five to nine.

Sophie's Choice is an exception to the small size of early tomatoes. It runs 6-8 ounces. It's a bit on the sweet side, compared to Stupice, which has a good, balanced tomatoey flavor.

Anna Russian comes in a little later (officially described as "early mid-season" and is more heart-shaped than round. It's large---often in the 1-lb range.

For canning you want to choose a true paste or plum tomato. They are typified by having a relatively dry flesh, and small seed cavities. Best bet for those is to contact Marianne Jones, at She's collected plum and paste tomatoes for several years and can make recomendations.

As to the core: It's the nature of the beast. Some tomatoes have heavy cores, some have hardly any at all. While I agree with you about waste, for those with heavy cores I just cut them out before slicing.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #19 of 20
Thread Starter 
Thank you for your suggestions! I'm copying this and will be doing some checking to see where I can find them and more research on growing them.

I'm really thankful to you both for this discussion. It's been a learning experience!
post #20 of 20

Wow, fun to be here...

Some knowledgeable "mater experts here.

Allie, if you are looking for consistent production of
good tasting tomatoes, may I suggest Early Girl, Champion
and Stupice.

Early Girls and Stupice (from the Ukraine and cold hardy) will
be vigorous and early fruit set. Th Early Girl produce a consistent
6x6 tomato size for us, Stupice an bit smaller, great for Salads.

My restaurant clients love Stupice.

The Champion and other Hybrid Varieties known as
slicers are a bit later and larger.

You may enjoy watching our series on

Look for PlayList Growing Tomatoes for Health and Wealth
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