Determining the Indeterminate (A Fruitful Discussion About Tomatoes)

March 1, 2019

Tomatoes bring a considerable amount of pleasure even before they are eaten. (This is assuming that as a true gardener you like to putter and experiment.) In addition to deciding between different types of fruit, you get to choose between determinate and indeterminate varieties. The former (more recently developed) are sometimes called self-pruning because they stop growing at a certain point and require neither staking nor pinching back. Determinate tomatoes will ripen virtually all at once (i.e., over a seven- to ten-day period). This is great if you are growing large numbers for sauce, but for general eating it’s a rather short season.

Indeterminate varieties are often favored not only for a longer yield period, but also because they are higher in sugar, and the yield in terms of numbers of fruits can be significantly larger. That latter point is no guarantee, however—you’ve got to keep to the task. Indeterminate types usually need pinching back and staking to keep them from putting all their energy into leaves.

If your tomatoes are indeterminate, stake or cage them soon after planting. A cage can be surrounded by a foot-high wall of roofing paper to cut the wind and retain heat, giving the young plant a further boost. Many gardeners believe that staked plants are less subject to soil-borne disease. And of course, fruit from staked plants is easier to get at. (However, some gardeners make an argument for letting tomatoes sprawl, on the basis that the horizontal foliage will shelter fruit from sunscald and the drying effects of wind and hot sun.)

An alternative to staking that will benefit both determinate and indeterminate types is mulching. A thin organic mulch of dried grass clippings can be effective. Apply it after the soil has warmed up. Plastic mulch is effective as a barrier and as a heat collector. Just be sure to leave enough of an opening right around the plant to allow water to penetrate.

Given all these factors, the gardening maxim that there is no one right way to do anything is particularly applicable here. After all, isn’t that what makes gardening so interesting?

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