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Select the Best Tomatoes to Grow in the Home Garden

With so many types of tomato plants available at garden centers and farmer's markets, it can be difficult to select the best tomato to grow in the home garden. However, if you know what to look for, you can find low-maintenance, highly productive tomatoes with the best flavor.

For some of us, our love of tomatoes almost borders on a religion. It is consuming, it is exciting, and it is part of what makes an Arkansas summer bearable. As far as I’m concerned, the typical supermarket tomato is inedible and is, I’m sorry to say, the reason people think tomatoes are flavorless. For those who purchase tomatoes from a mass retailer, this statement might ring true, but that is only because they carry a flavorless variety, picked green, ripened in a truck, refrigerated, and bred for mass production. The exciting truth is that tomatoes do have flavor and each tomato is unique. I’m not referring to ketchup or spaghetti sauce but the pure, unadulterated garden tomato. Topped with salt or a dash of balsamic, a good garden tomato rivals the complexity of a fine wine or carefully roasted coffee.

Here are a few things to consider to select the best tomatoes to grow in the home garden:
  • Determinate vs. Indeterminate- As you look on labels you might see these words. Determinate tomatoes only reach a certain height and produce a set number of blooms each season, regardless of the length of good growing weather. These are good for gardeners who want a large harvest all at once for preserving or folks in northern areas with a short growing season. Indeterminate plants will continue to grow and produce blooms for as long as conditions are favorable. I have had tomatoes well into October from my indeterminate plants.
  • Heirloom vs. Hybrid- There is quite a bit of confusion over these terms. Simply put, an heirloom tomato is any variety over 50 years old that is not a hybrid. Seeds saved from an heirloom tomato will produce a tomato identical to the mother plant. Hybrid tomatoes are combined varieties of two different plants but ARE NOT genetically modified. There are several ways to combine tomato types including cross pollination and grafting. The downside of hybrids is that a seed saved from the fruit will not produce a tomato true to the mother plant, the upside is that they have been bred to be disease-resistant, this is particularly useful for areas where blight is a big problem. I only grow heirlooms in my garden because I like to save my own seeds and because I have always found the flavor of heirlooms to be superior. 
I have tried a lot of tomato varieties in my garden. For beginning gardeners, I actually suggest some of the old tried-and-true hybrids like better boy and early girl. They are consistent, disease resistant, and have decent flavor. Personally, I only grow heirlooms and my two favorite heirloom tomatoes always found in my garden are Peacevine and Ozark Pink.

Peacevine: A massive indeterminate cherry tomato that produces pints of tomatoes daily throughout summer. Be warned, this requires a very sturdy trellis, like my tomato cages. We eat a ton of these fresh and dehydrate the rest.

Ozark PinkThe Ozark pink also requires a sturdy cage, but only grows to about 5'-6' tall (small compared to the Peacevine's 10' vines!). It produces consistently throughout the growing season well into fall. This is the only tomato I have grown that does not crack at all, a fact that is incredibly useful during seasons when we have long dry spells followed by torrential downpours. Tomatoes crack because of inconsistent watering. When mother nature sends us a flood after a drought, we can lose an entire crop of tomatoes to cracking -- I know this from experience. The Ozark Pink does not crack. It also tastes fantastic, which is why it has earned a permanent spot in my garden. 

Cherokee Purple: While not guaranteed a spot in my garden, this variety deserves an honorable mention for taste alone. It's not a big producer, and I have had a lot of problems with cracking and catfacing with this variety. I am experimenting with other varieties this year, but it is possible I will grow the Cherokee purple again in the future. 

One variety I will never grow again is Amish Paste. It is highly regarded as the go-to for paste tomatoes, but I have lost entire crops to cracking due to our harsh summers with inconsistent rain in NW Arkansas. It is a good tomato, but you need to know your growing conditions well before growing it.  

If I can leave you with one tip, it’s this: If you have questions or problems with your tomatoes, or any other plants, call your local Extension Service. They have a number of resources to help you succeed in your garden. Of course, you are always welcome to contact me!

What is your favorite tomato variety?


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