Indeterminate vs Determinate Tomatoes. So Why is this a Queston?



Determinate -  Produce one crop of tomatoes per season, then die.

Indeterminate - Produce tomatoes (in theory) all season until killed by frost.



The normal reasons for planting (and not planting) determinate tomato varieties are easy to find. Determinate varieties tend to grow smaller, and so are better for containers and small spaces.  This also means less trellising and smaller cages.  These varieties are predictable, producing one big harvest per season (about 45 days after setting out).   


Then there are the determinate detractors.  Tomato purists (some of my best gardening friends) insist determinate varieties simply aren’t as tasty as their indeterminate cousins.  Reasons given range from sensible to strange.  Fewer leaves (sensible) means less nutrients are delivered to the fruit.  All determinate varieties are F1 hybrids (strange), and so could not possibly taste as good as open pollinated/heirloom varieties.  Personally, I have never found a fresh-off-the-vine determinate tomato anything but totally scrumptious.




So much for a quick-and-dirty pros and cons review.  You can find lots more for-and-against arguments with minimal Googling.  I grow determinate tomato varieties for the usual reasons, and then some:

A).  The Summer Salsa Payload
A large crop of tomatoes ripening at about the same time means only one thing at my house -  homemade salsa Valhalla .  If only someone would develop a deterministic jalapeño.

B).  Dog Days
I live in north central Texas.  Yesterday (June 2) the high temperature was 100F degrees with an official heat index of 111F.  Things will only get worse.  Tomatoes will not produce fruit at temps higher than about 95F.  So even though indeterminate varieties theoretically produce fruit all year, in my neck of the woods, blossoms get cooked off the vine from late June to September and I am way too lazy to build a shade canopy.  If the plants make it through the summer, I find the vines are usually too stunted to produce much of a fall crop.

C).  Chemicals
I strive to stay as chemical free as possible.  Unfortunately Blight can be a big problem for small gardens - especially if the tomato plants are spaced too close for adequate air flow.  With a good determinate variety, I can usually get a decent crop before the Blight outruns my ability to cut off infected leaves.

Bottom Line -
Determinate/Indeterminate should never be an either-or choice.  I would never abandon my favorite indeterminate varieties.  Instead, my tomato strategy will be to mix the two types.  So, consider planting a few determinate plants for all the usual reasons.  But don’t stop there.  Determinate varieties provide you all the salsa you need for football season as well as buy you a little time in the race against heat, blight, and who-knows-what.

The determinate variety shown in the photograph is BHN1021 from Johnny’s Selected Seed.  Indeterminate varieties shown are Damsel and Jasper, also from Johnny's.  All plants were started indoors from seed in February.

Planning Your Garden with a Storyboard

For me, planning my next-year’s small garden is small agony. No sunshine.  No digging.  No planting.  No picking.  But I know I want to produce as much food as possible in the space I have, so planning (however distasteful) must be endured.  The planning end game is all about maximizing both space AND time. Here’s what I mean…

I live five miles from downtown Dallas, Texas.  I have gardened in this area for over 20 years.  In my backyard I have 422 square feet in raised beds.

From early spring to late fall we have three growing seasons:  1) early spring to early summer; 2) dog days of 95 plus degree days when eggs fry on the concrete; and 3) early fall to early winter.  Furthermore, I know that in the Dog Days only a few crops will produce something edible (okra, black-eyed peas, certain peppers, heat tolerant tomatoes, maybe some egg plant if I’m lucky).  So, if I am going to maximize my space and deal with the fierce Texas summer, I’ll need to know what crops to plant where, and when to plant them through the season.    

Simply making a sketch of my beds and jotting down where my plants will go, won’t do. I need to show how things will look as the weeks pass.  I’ve borrowed/stolen a technique from film production called Storyboarding. The idea is simple enough.  Make a series of sketches showing how a story - in this case my garden - progresses over time (the North Texas growing seasons.

Check out the Storyboard for my upcoming 2016 garden and you’ll see what I mean.


Here are the highpoints.

A.  Each sketch shows the layout of my beds for each date shown.
B.  Numbers with each crop are ‘Days to Maturity’.  So on January 3, I will plant onion sets.  These will mature in about 110 days. 
C.  Planting dates are based on the “Vegetable Planting Guide for North Texas”  published by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
D.  The ‘Days to Maturity’ numbers for each planted crop are updated with each subsequent garden bed layout.  On March 19th, my onion sets still have 35 days to go.
E.  Green colored ink is used on the day the crop is planted.  I’ll plant beets, spinach, and a small bed of mesclun on February 6.  On April 16, I’ll replace Sugar Snap Peas with Pole Beans, and Beets with dwarf Okra.
F.  Storyboard planning also helps you determine the best time to start your seeds indoors.

Now for the caveats.  As we all know, Mother Nature rarely follows yearly averages calculated by humans and their computers,  or information written on seed packets.   I recommend you do one Storyboard first that goes through one planting only.  Anything longer just leads to frustration.  Once you see how the vagaries of nature are treating you, you can make updates and Storyboard your next planting cycle.  Happy Planning.