In the snowy winter we have seen this year, it is easy to become quite anxious for spring and the garden planting season. The seed catalogs are coming in almost daily still, which can help us plan for our gardens. However, some of the things listed in the catalogs are not always explained. Hopefully, this will help you with your garden planning.
Determinate vs. indeterminate
Tomatoes are one of my favorite vegetables to grow. They are taste so much better straight from my garden, they can be canned and stored in many different ways, and they are fairly easy to care for.
Tomatoes are available as determinate or indeterminate growth habit. Determinate tomatoes will grow to a specific size and produce only a certain amount of tomatoes through the season. Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and produce until the frost kills them in the fall. Both types of tomatoes have their place.
Determinate tomatoes are better suited for container gardens or smaller gardens where it is not desirable for them to grow too large. Indeterminate tomatoes are great for gardeners who love to can, freeze, and eat a lot of tomatoes fresh. I prefer to use determinate varieties for the cherry or grape type of tomatoes so the plants don’t get so large, and because I only use those for fresh eating. I grow indeterminate tomatoes for my large, slicing tomatoes to use for salsa. Choose what works for you, but keep in mind the size and production differences between the two.
Heirloom varieties are also a point of confusion. Heirloom tomatoes are those that have been passed down for many generations. The seed can be saved and replanted from year to year because they are not hybrid plants. Heirloom tomatoes are often chosen because they have better taste than the modern hybrids, but they can have more problems with diseases and insects. Many gardeners choose hybrids now to combat disease issues that always plague tomatoes. Heirloom and hybrid tomatoes are both great choices, it just helps to know what you are purchasing when you buy the seed.
Other seed packet considerations
The seed packet or description in the seed catalog can give you a lot more important information about the plants or seeds you are purchasing. Days to maturity is important so you purchase plants that will produce before the end of the growing season. Many of the tomato varieties are listed for 60-80 days to maturity, which means it will be 2-3 months after you plant them until they will begin to produce fruit. One variety, Fourth of July hybrid tomato, ripens after only 49 days. I planted this variety one year and it did start producing shortly after Independence Day, which I enjoyed so I could start eating my tomatoes that much earlier in the season.
Also, be sure to pay close attention to the spacing listed on the seed packet or plant labels. It may seem odd to give such a small plant so much space in early May, but you will be happy you did later in the growing season. If plants are too close together, they may face more problems with diseases because they won’t have good airflow. Also, if you space your plants out more, mulching around the plants is much easier and garden access for harvest will be much easier.
Finally, don’t get too excited that you start your plants too soon. In southeast Nebraska, I suggest waiting until early May before you plant your garden. I like to use Mother’s Day as a good calendar date for planting vegetable gardens. Wait until after our frost free date, which averages April 24 but can be later. If you are planning to start your seeds indoors, you can start those in March. Don’t start too soon or your plants could get too leggy.
Nicole Stoner is the Gage County Horticulture Extension Educator. She can be contacted at (402) 223-1384, email@example.com, or by visiting the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu. Like her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture, or follow her on Twitter @Nikki_Stoner.