Homesteading Basics: Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

Which Should You Choose?

If you’ve ever decided to grow  your own tomatoes, then this is a dilemma that you’re probably familiar with – determinate vs indeterminate.

We’ve all been there – standing in our local nursery or flipping through the pages of our favorite seed catalog.  There is a long and wonderful description of the fruit that each plant will produce, and they all sound utterly delicious.  With so many options, it can be very hard to narrow it down and choose only a few.

And then, next to the lengthy description of the fruit – there is one word that you aren’t sure about.  It’s on every label, so it must be important.  “Determinate,” what the heck does that mean?  Even worse, “Indeterminate.”  You were feeling so excited, and now you’re just confused.  Does it really matter?  Should I buy one of each?  Did someone put this here just to confuse me?

Well, the short answer is that yes, it really does matter – and no, someone didn’t put it there just to confuse you.  There’s really one key factor that you should take into consideration when choosing determinate vs indeterminate tomato varieties… Here’s Marjory Wildcraft to tell you what it is:

Determinate vs Indeterminate

The main point Marjory makes can be summed up like this: determinate tomato varieties yield their tomatoes all at once, and indeterminate varieties yield tomatoes sporadically throughout the growing season.

She also touches on the growth habit of each type, explaining that determinate varieties are typically more compact and bush-like; while indeterminate varieties typically grow as large vines and require some sort of trellising or support.

Read more: Growing Tomatoes – A Guide for Beginning Farmers

How Will You Use Your Tomatoes?

If you’re planning to preserve many of your tomatoes, then determinate varieties might be a no-brainer for you.  Because the tomatoes all come in a short window of time, these varieties lend themselves to canning.  Using determinate varieties, you’ll be able set aside some time and do your canning for the season all at once.

But if you prefer to eat your tomatoes fresh, indeterminate varieties may be a better choice for you.  You will be able to harvest tomatoes for a longer time, and you’ll be less likely to be overwhelmed by a huge harvest of fruit that comes all at once.

As with most things – the best approach is probably to try both types yourself and figure out which one works best for you.  If you have enough room to experiment, it’s always nice to plant a few of each so you can have your tomatoes and eat them too!


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  • d. henry Lee says:

    I personally like indeterminate. We don’t do canning but some juicing. I like a lot of the heirloom varieties but Early Girl and Arkansas Travelers are probably my two favorites.

    1. Janice says:

      Try Cherokee Purple they are the bomb!

  • Rose A says:

    Do indeterminate keep growing in inches as well as fruit, and do determinate stop growing in inches when tomatoes that grew all at once are harvested?

    1. Michael Ford says:

      You got it, Rose.

  • Sandy says:

    My husband loves tomatoes and will see this article. Another meaningful point we have heard about indeterminate tomatoes is that the yield and management of trellised tomatoes is improved by pinching off the suckers (those cute little baby branches) that appear in the crook of the main stem and side branches. If allowed to grown the suckers can overwhelm the weight bearing capacity of the trellis, make the fruit harder to see and reduce sun exposure, which affects the development and taste of the tomatoes. Can anyone out there comment on whether they have found it more productive to pinch off the suckers? Does less foliage result in more vulnerability to weather anomalies and extremes (we have experienced that it is possible to have a night or two of frost in any of our summer months or the occasional day that is suddenly above 90F and scorches everything. Yeah, we live in a conditional Paradise.)

  • Daryle in VT says:

    The nicest thing about indeterminate varieties of tomatoes is that with very little effort you can grow them indoors all winter long. You could even wrap up a tomato or two as the Christmas gift no one expected.

  • Hi Daryle, that is an awe4some idea. I love cherry tomatoes which are most indeterminate types

  • KK says:

    Thanks for the info. Please post a recipe for thick tomato sauce. Mine always gets watery.

  • Jolene Carson says:

    I put my indeterminate tomatoes in the freezer as they ripened and when I had enough to can I threw them in the sink to thaw. The peels just slip off; no need to boil or broil them. You can put the peeled tomatoes in a colander set on top of a stockpot and let some of the extra liquid drain before processing.

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