Tomatoes: Kinds, Pruning, Allergies, And Fruit Versus Vegetable
When growing tomatoes, the most basic things the organic vegetable
gardener has to decide about is whether to grow determinate or
indeterminate tomato plants.
Here's the difference In Growing Type
Determinate plants are bush types that will ripen the majority of the
fruit within a very few days. All the fruit ripens - bang - all at
once. This is great if you are using them for canning or
freezing or doing some form of processing with them.
You get a ton
of fruit when you need it. Or, at least you get a ton of fruit when the
plants say they're ready. There will be a few stragglers coming along
afterwards but the bulk of the crop will ripen together. This kind of
growth is best suited for sprawling plant growing (see below).
Indeterminateplants ripen in sequence. The first fruit set ripens
before the second set; each set lower down on the stem ripens before
the next higher one. This kind of growth is best suited for staking and
fresh eating. This plant will continue to ripen and set fruit until
frost knocks on your garden door.
A Decision To Be Made - Sprawl or Stake
So, to complicate things a bit... Before you plant, there is a basic
decision to be made.
Do you have an abundance of garden space to let
them sprawl or are you restricted so you have to stake them? Sprawling
plants yield more per plant but staked fruit yield more per square foot
of garden space (you can crowd tomatoes a bit when staking).
an intermediate form of staking. Cages do let you see the ripening fruit. Do set your cages
deeply into the garden soil; I see more heavily weighted cages
collapsing under the weight of a mature tomato plant than I want to
And for the record, those .99 cent "cages" you buy from light wire aren't worth the powder to blow them.
Buy or make heavy duty ones from concrete reinforcing wire if you want them to support a mature tomato vine. They'll cost more but they do the job and last for years.
Sprawling plants should be put into the full sunshine (did I mention
that tomatoes want full sunshine?) at 24 to 30 inch spacing. The rows
should be 4 to 5 feet apart. This plant can really grow.
Staked plants can be grown on 12 to 18 inch centers with rows 3 feet
across. The rule of thumb is that each plant gets one square foot of
growing space around it on all sides if you're growing it straight up.
So, determinate plants do much better when left to sprawl or when grown
in cages and indeterminate plants do better when staked.
Tomato 'King of Siberia' an early mid-season heirloom tomato variety we grow (and love) in our own vegetable garden
Question About Sprawling
Is there special care needed if I let my plants sprawl?
No. Just plant, water, take care of pests and harvest. Pretty simple
In growing tomatoes, how do you prune staked plants?
As my tomatoes grow up the stakes, I tie them to the stake every six
inches with binder twine. While I have some left over from the farm,
any thick twine or old pantyhose will do well.
You simply want to avoid cutting into the stem with thin supports.
I pick a single leader - a single stem - to train to the stake and I
remove all other branches.
You'll often see a "sucker" trying to grow from between the stem and a
big leaf. Pinch all these suckers off and only allow the main stem to
Fruit will develop on this main stem and you'll be able to harvest four
to five fruit sets from your growing tomatoes before frost (depending
on your location you might even get more) The plant will easily reach
six feet tall in decent soil. I usually "top" (cut off the leader) when
it gets that tall and while I still pick off any suckers, the research
shows that the upper fruit sets will ripen faster if you "top" your
plants a month before you are going to destroy your plants (or frost is
going to destroy your plants).
I prune the suckers out on staked plants but leave them to grow on caged or sprawling plants.
A tomato sucker - the small growth coming from the leaf stem and the main stem - waiting to be pinched off
Tomatoes require weekly watering. Remember if you are growing tomatoes
that this fruit is 95%+ water and if you withhold water, you create
physiological disease problems as well as small fruit.
Tomatoes do really well on an organic soil and working several shovels
of compost into the soil around the base of each plant before planting
is a good idea. Weekly or bi-weekly feedings of a fish emulsion will
produce bumper crops.
A true tomato allergy is an extremely rare condition given tomatoes are
one of the most eaten foods in North America.
I'm told however that an allergic reactions can exist.
Much of the time, the reaction is found to be a cross-reaction to
another item in the prepared food such as a gluten binder or coloring
agent in the bread or dressing.
The only way to definitely tell if there is a reaction to tomato itself
is to have an allergy test done by a qualified physician. This testing
may include blood tests including an IgE allergy antibody test, blood
counts, possible nasal smears, and a full food diary review and
symptomatic medical history.
Click Here For Tomato Growing Secrets Ebook
Some folks say they are allergic to some kinds of tomatoes but can eat
others, i.e. can't eat the red but can eat the yellow-skinned
varieties. There is no literature in the medical Internet to support or
contradict this kind of allergy. Again, a visit to a qualified
physician is the only way to identify an allergy.
Are Tomatoes Equally Acidic?
Some folks say they can eat low acid tomatoes but not the high acid
ones. The data shows that all tomatoes are equally acidic
is the flavanoids that give the taste of acidity but the acidity itself
is not a variable.
Note that in both of these cases, a food diary is important and should
be kept for a month or more (noting symptoms after meals) to share with
the physician if you suspect a tomato allergy
Is The Tomato A Fruit Or A Vegetable?
Is the tomato a fruit? Well, yes it is.
Botanically speaking, a fruit is developed from the ovary in the base
of a flower and contains the seeds of the plant.
So tomatoes develop from the base of the tomato flower and contain the
seeds for next year's crop. (other examples of this would be apples,
oranges, blueberries, and raspberries).
Vegetables, on the Other Hand
A "vegetable" is technically using another part of the plant such as
the leaves of cabbages and lettuce. Or the roots of carrots and
potatoes and stalks of celery.
These vegetables do not develop from the base of a flower and do not
contain the seeds for next year's plants.
U.S. Supreme Court
In 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while tomatoes were
botanically a fruit, in U.S. law they were a vegetable.
You see, domestic producers were afraid of outside competition and if
the tomato was a vegetable, it would be protected by the 10% tariff
imposed on imported vegetables and the loophole that exempted tomatoes
It remains closed to this day to protect U.S. growers.
But in common speaking, we refer to tomatoes as vegetables because we
use them in this way.
So - a tomato is a fruit of the tomato plant and we use it as a
If you want to see specific details - almost a mini-course - on growing tomatoes, I've posted it here.
Got Tomato Gardening Questions? Here's Where Doug Answers Them