If you have heard the terms “determinate” and “indeterminate” in regard to tomatoes, what does that mean?

In general, an indeterminate tomato plant is one that will produce fruit (the edible tomato) over an extended period of time.  This allows the gardener to harvest fresh tomatoes all season long.  The plants themselves tend to have a vine like or climbing habit and require staking to support the plant and to keep large fruits from breaking the branches.  A determinate type of tomato is one where almost all the fruit ripens in a very short period of time and will only produce sporadically until they die shortly thereafter.  The plants themselves tend to be shorter and more bush-like thus staking is usually unnecessary.

Why would you choose a tomato that only has one major crop for the season?  The determinate type of tomato is useful when you want to “put up” or can them.  Coming in all at once makes it easier to plan a period for doing the preserving at one time. Also, many of these varieties are best used for cooking and sauces.  The bush-like growth habit also allows many of these varieties to be grown in containers.   As far as consumption is concerned the indeterminate tomato can be enjoyed all summer long directly from the vine and tend to be of higher quality and are preferred as slicing tomatoes.

Depending on your expectations for the intended use of your crop and how much space you have, you can now decide which type, indeterminate or determinate, of tomato will best suit your needs.