Tomato Plant Lingo
Pruning, staking, pinching, tying up branches are all jobs that come with a good tomato harvest. Particularly indeterminate plants which are simply plants that continue to grow quite large and fruit continuously until frost. Determinate plants, or “bush” plants grow to a more compact height (4-6 feet high), stop growing when the fruit sets on the terminal or top bud, and ripens the entire crop at once, approximately over a 2 week period and then dies. But what if you could have a compact plant, 3 to 4 feet, that produces all season long? Intrigued when I heard about a project for developing dwarf tomato plants, I wanted more information and seeds to try them. More space to grow more varieties? Deal me in!
I grow tomatoes in a pretty large space, 60′ x 40′, and when empty it looks like I could fit a lot of veggies in that wide open area. But once I start planting out my 12 to 15 tomato plants (sometimes more), along with squash, lettuce, beans, and other assorted cutting flowers, the space shrinks considerably and I run out of room. A fully grown caged tomato plant turns into a monster with branch tentacles that reach out of the cage in all directions so that it is hard to pass between plants. I was ready for some compact plants. And I love to try new varieties. Go to Pushing the Tomato Envelope to see some suggestions.
Dwarf Tomatoes Are Here!
Thanks to the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, a 2006 brainstorm between Craig LeHouillier, a tomato hobbyist, and Patrina Nuske Small, an Australian gardener, citizen scientists pitched in and are working on an all-volunteer, all-amateur, open-source worldwide non-profit breeding effort. A team of everyday backyard growers from all over the world in the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere collaborated which meant that two generations of experiments could be done in a single calendar year-thus cutting the time of development in half.
The goal of the project was to develop great new dwarf varieties on sturdy and compact plants with high yields and colorful fruits and of course – great taste. There are lots of space-challenged tomato lovers who would jump at the chance at growing any of these varieties as long as the taste remains the same high quality either in containers or in a garden. Described as sweet and mild, tart, smoky, rich, and even salty, the taste of the new varieties will please any tomato lovers palate.
Craig LeHouillier, known as Tomatoman and for his introduction to the world – the luscious Cherokee Purple tomato– and Patrina Small were the driving force behind the project of crossing colorful tasty, indeterminate heirloom tomatoes and the few available dwarf tomato varieties to produce unique hybrids. Six to ten generations were planted out to stabilize a new variety and volunteers grow these new varieties for carefully selected seed companies to distribute. The new varieties are great-tasting, open-pollinated tomatoes that require less space and are easier to take care of.
Dwarf tomatoes have crinkly dark-green leaves, termed “rugose” and grow about half of the height of an indeterminate tomato, around 3 to 4 feet.
There are early, mid-season, and late season fruit options so you can enjoy dwarf varieties all season long, just like in the larger heirlooms. The central stems are thicker than other tomatoes and the fruit comes in the 3 to 18 ounce range. So, these aren’t dwarf fruit! Colors range across the tomato spectrum with orange, stripes, yellow, amber, bi-colors, stripes, blacks (purple & chocolate), pink, red, white and green (when ripe) shades; A veritable rainbow! For more information about the project, go to Dwarf Tomato Project.
So where can gardeners pick these up and what kind of selection is available? According to Craig LeHouillier, “We have 60 in seed catalogs (mostly between the four companies Victory, Sample Seed Shop, Heritage Seed Market and Tatiana’s TOMATObase). Probably another 5-6 coming out next year, and dozens in development”.
I have already ordered my seeds as it is time to start those seeds right now!