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Understanding Tomato Tags. Labels explained.

Updated on April 17, 2017
Patsybell profile image

I inherited my love of gardening from mother and grandmother. I am a garden blogger, freelance writer, and Master Gardener emeritus.

Look For The New Indigo Rose Tomato

Indigo Rose tomatoes are bluest when directly exposed to sun.
Indigo Rose tomatoes are bluest when directly exposed to sun. | Source

Indeterminate Or Determinate?

All tomato plants were indeterminate at one time. Then a compact, determinate plant - a natural mutatation, was discovered in a field of tomatoes. All the determinate plants come from that one plant.

"IND" What does indeterminate mean?

For example: Brandywine, the taste standard since 1885. The beefsteak-shaped fruit has rich flavor, sets and ripens late in the season and continues producing to frost.

Tomato vines continue growing in length until frost. Sometimes referred to as "vining" tomatoes, indeterminate tomato varieties continue to grow in height and produce fruit all season.

"DET" What is a determinate tomato?

Vines tend to reach a set height and produce all their fruit at once. Ideal for commercial harvesting or home canning.

Best choice for container gardening. Many determinate tomatoes are Roma type tomatoes used to make tomato sauces and pastes. Sometimes called “bush” tomatoes.

An example: Rio Grande is a paste type tomato that produces most of it's fruit all at once. Excellent for spagetti sauce.

One of the most beautiful determinte tomatoes is Pompeii. It is available only from seed. Two containers, each with a determinate Pompeii, stand as sentinels on either side of the kitchen garden entrance.

“INDET” What are Semi-Determinate tomatoes?

Vines grow to a set height (like determinate) yet produce fruit over an extended growing season (like indeterminate).

Example: Celebrity is a red tomato, producing 7– 8 ounce fruits on very productive semi-determinate vines.

Plant and grow semi-determinate tomatoes like determinate varieties. Celebrity produces continuously all season like indeterminate varieties. To keep tomatoes clean and for easy access to fruit, moderately stake.

Look For 1 Pound Gold Medal Tomatoes

Gold Medal heirloom tomatoes are big plants and big tomatoes. The heart of the tomato is red and the exterior sometimes displays a bit of red coloration.
Gold Medal heirloom tomatoes are big plants and big tomatoes. The heart of the tomato is red and the exterior sometimes displays a bit of red coloration. | Source

What Is A VFTNA Tomato?

It looks like a coded message on the tomato label. But it is worth your time to “learn the code”. Hybrids are the easiest kind of tomato to find at the garden centers and big box stores. Because of the demand, more heirlooms are also showing up there.

V, F, N, T, A - If your tomatoes have suffered diseases in the past, hold off using the chemical treatments for disease prevention. Try growing hybrids with the initials V, F, N, T or A printed after the name on the label. Those letters mean that the tomato is resistant to wilt, nematodes and, tobacco mosaic virus. It is unlikely that this tomato plant will succumb to these diseases.

Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt are two common problems that can be overcome by selecting wilt-resistant varieties. Decyphering the rest of the tomato lable requires even more knowledge that first time gardeners doesn't have but will need. N is for nematodes, T is for tobacco mosaic virus and, A is for alternaria.

A good practice for all gardeners is rotating the plantings so that these organisms are not able to build up in the soil. For example, you would plant tomatoes in a different spot every year, only returning to the original spot on the fourth year. This keeps disease from building up resistance in the soil.

Look For Unlimited Heirloom Varieties

A black heirloom tomato, Carbon is an indeterminate heavy producer of beef steak like, half-pound fruits. Heavy Producer.
A black heirloom tomato, Carbon is an indeterminate heavy producer of beef steak like, half-pound fruits. Heavy Producer. | Source

Hybrids Or Heirlooms?

A hybrid combines the best traits of two plants to make one. Usually, the goal of a hybrid is to gain some advantage that neither of the two originals could achieve alone.

Seeds taken from this cross-pollinated tomato will not reproduce the crossed variety. Don't bother to save this unpredictable seed.

An heirloom is an open pollinated tomato plant that has been saved and passed down for generations, usually for at least 50 years.

Growing the same tomato from seed year after year also builds "locally adapted" traits. This creates a tomato that is even better suited to that particular region.

Many heirlooms come with a story or a history. Families pass down seeds of favorite tomatoes for generations. For example, Riesentraube.

Riesentraube Tomato - 76-85 days This old German heirloom was offered in Philadelphia by the mid-1800's. The sweet red 1-oz fruit grow in large clusters, The name means "Giant Bunch of Grapes" in German. This little red, rich, fruit packs a full tomato flavor. I bought Riesentraube seeds from Baker Creek.

F1 (first generation) plants are the result of a cross between two varieties. For example, two different varieties of tomatoes were cross pollinated to develop specific traits the breeder wants to combine into 1 plant.

Typically, that first generation tomato will produce vigorous plants with the highest yields. But seeds from F1 tomatoes will not reproduce the same plant.

An example of an F1 tomato is Sun Gold. This very sweet tangerine colored cherry tomato is the earliest ripe tomato in most gardens. Sun Gold continues to produce nonstop until the first frost.

Saving seed will not produce similar Sun Gold tomato plants. Most seed companies offer Sun Gold. I bought seeds from Renee's Garden.

Grow Tomatoes In Containers

Pink Bradywine tomatoes thriving in a five gallon bucket.
Pink Bradywine tomatoes thriving in a five gallon bucket. | Source

Save Favorite Tomato Seed

German Red Strawberry a meaty heirloom oxheart.  Rich, old fashioned flavor.
German Red Strawberry a meaty heirloom oxheart. Rich, old fashioned flavor. | Source

What Color is your tomato?

Have you ever eaten a black tomato?

See results

Tomato Tips And Tidbits

It doesn't take much space to grow a tomato. Grow full sized tomatoes in 5 gallon plastic buckets with sturdy stakeing. See Pink Brandywine photo above. It just wouldn't be summer without big juicy tomatoes.

Tomatoes are rich in vitamins A and C, low in calories, and an excellent source of lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red and has been linked to the prevention of many forms of cancer.

Indigo Rose is new tomato which is blue purple. It shows great promise for it's health benefits as well as for the unusual color.

Our favorite homegrown vegetable originated in South America. It then traveled to Europe, and finally, returned to the Americas before being elevated to a place of honor.

Tomatoes are native to South America, probably Peru. The name “tomato” comes from “xitomatl.” The Aztec word means “plump thing with a navel”.

It was probably Cortez who brought tomatoes to Europe. Those first tomatoes were yellow and known as “pomo d’oro,” golden apple.

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