Imagine a tomato that accepts cool growing conditions, grows into a compact bush that needs no pruning, and that can be supported with simple stakes. About 45 days after planting, the vigorous plant explodes with blossoms, which become huge trusses of tomatoes that are ripe and ready three weeks later.
I have just described a determinate tomato, a type that deserves wider use in vegetable gardens. In addition to their obvious advantage in climates with short, cool summers, determinate tomatoes work well in hot climates, where good growing conditions end in early summer. They are also useful in humid climates like mine, where tomato diseases can sabotage full-season tomatoes just as they ripen in late summer. In any climate, determinate tomatoes are great for preserving because they ripen their crop all at once, usually within a three-week period. The plants can then be pulled and composted, making room for a fall crop of leafy greens.
Supporting Determinate Tomatoes
The vast majority of garden tomatoes are either long-vined indeterminate (cordon) varieties, or an in-between category called “vigorous determinates,” of which ‘Roma’ and ‘Celebrity’ are good examples. These and other vigorous determinate varieties set a big initial crop, but with good care they will keep on going. True determinates will not do this, because each stem tip ends in a fruiting cluster.
Because every stem of a strongly determinate tomato will bear fruit, it is important not to pinch them out. Instead, encourage the plants to grow into sturdy bushes, which they can do on their own with minimal support. Many smaller determinate tomatoes are easy to grow in pots, while larger varieties behave themselves in ring-style tomato cages. This cannot be said of sprawling indeterminate varieties.
Best Tasting Early Determinate Tomatoes
Determinate tomatoes are often faulted for poor flavor, an unfair assessment that does not factor in the risk between fast-maturing determinates that bear a dependable crop, or slower-growing tomatoes that fail due to weather, pests or diseases. Additionally, determinate varieties do not set large fruits, and tomatoes do a better job of allocating resources to small fruits compared to large ones. As long as sunny weather reigns while the fruits are ripening, the determinate tomato varieties listed here can be counted upon to taste wonderful.
Among fast-maturing varieties that start ripening about 60 days after transplanting, egg-shaped ‘Siberian’ sets a high standard for flavor, which is similar in many respects to Canadian-bred ‘ Beaverlodge’. Both are knee-high salad tomatoes, while the fruits of round ‘Glacier’ and ‘Sophie's Choice’ are large enough to slice and dry, or to preserve as tangy tomato sauce. Bred to bear in Idaho’s short summers, beautiful orange ‘Ida Gold’, shown loaded with green fruits in the photo above delivers on all of a determinate tomato’s promises – early, easy, productive and tastes great.
Cherry tomatoes are well-represented among early determinate tomatoes, and a novel new yellow-gold bush cherry, ‘Patio Choice Yellow’, has been named as a 2017 All America Selections winner. Similar to popular to ‘Tumbling Tom Yellow’, ‘Patio Choice Yellow’ matures into a 2-foot mound of sweet golden cherry tomatoes when staked, or it can be grown in a hanging basket.
More Delicious Determinate Tomato Varieties
Not all determinate tomatoes are extra earlies, and full-season varieties rated at 75 to 80 days to maturity offer easy-to-manage harvests from big, robust bushes. Purple-blushed ‘Black Sea Man’ is a delicious Russian heirloom with potato-leaf foliage that grows to 4 feet (1.2 m) or more. Another contender is Oregon-bred ‘Santiam’, which will set nearly seedless fruits even under stressful conditions. In hot summer areas where disease pressure is relentless, determinate ‘Amelia’ provides rare resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus, and its red fruits ripen ahead of summer’s worst insects.
I am not saying that all of one’s tomato selections should be determinate varieties, but rather that they should be used more often when your goal is to grow a uniform crop of tomatoes under low-stress conditions. Space-saving and dependable, determinate tomatoes can be an essential component in a well-balanced tomato planting plan.