Growing Tomatoes – Which Varieties To Grow?

There are a bewildering amount of tomato seeds on the market in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are tiny tumbling tomatoes no larger than your fingernail, sweet cherry tomatoes, meaty paste tomatoes, juicy salad tomatoes, and the giant beefsteak tomatoes. Not only do you have this choice, but there are lots of different colors available too, not just the commonly found red tomatoes! Now you can buy tomato plants that produce fruit ranging in color from orange to yellow, green, purple, chocolate, black and deep crimson.

Tomato Seeds

Ready to plant some tomato seeds

With over 3,000 varieties of heirloom tomatoes actively cultivated and over 15,000 known varieties, it can be very difficult to decide what to grow.

Firstly, decide whether you want to grow from seed or buy pre-grown plants. If the former, then you have a much wider selection as the pre-grown plants tend to be the same few varieties such as Gardener’s Delight or Moneymaker. Occasionally you may find more unusual varieties such as a yellow tomato or Tigeralla or even a black tomato, but these are much harder to find.

Colored tomatoes

Colored tomatoes

When growing from seed, you need to start your plants now or in the next month so that they have time to mature, fruit and ripen. If you are in a colder area with a short growing season, it is important to start them off indoors early so they are fruiting and ripening when the weather is right for them. Pre-grown plants can be bought much later in the season around the time, or just after, the last frost. Remember, tomato plants are not frost hardy!

Be adventurous with your choice of tomatoes, don’t just grow the same tomatoes you can buy in the store, choose some varieties that are unusual, different and not available from the shops. I have my favorite varieties, but every year I like to try one or two new cultivars that I’ve not grown before. Each year, new types of plant are brought to market, so there is always something new to try!

One thing to consider is whether to grow determinate or indeterminate tomatoes.

Determinate tomatoes are known as bush tomatoes. They grow up to about three feet tall, set buds at the end of the branches which form flowers. The fruit all ripens at once and then, usually, the plant dies back. These are great if you don’t have a lot of space, haven’t got the time to prune your plants, or you want a lot of fruit ripe at once to can or make into something. There are fewer varieties of bush tomato, but you can usually find a variety that is the size and color you want to grow.

Determinate tomato plant

Determinate or bush tomatoes are much smaller, requiring less maintenance

Indeterminate tomatoes are the type of plant people are most familiar with. These are the vining tomatoes that need supporting and grow like crazy. These have to be pinched out and will continue to produce fruit until they are killed off by frost. Indeterminate tomatoes produce very large crops of tomatoes over a longer period as the fruit does not ripen all at once. These are great for eating as you do not end up with a glut of fruit. Typically, you limit the growth of this type of tomato so that it can ripen the fruit.

Indeterminate tomato plants

Indeterminate or vining tomato plants grow very tall if not maintained

Whether you are growing in the soil or in containers will also influence your choice of seeds. Bush tomatoes are better suited for containers as their size is limited whereas indeterminate tomatoes need larger containers because they grow so big. Tumbling tomatoes are excellent for hanging baskets and make for a striking, edible display.

Which you choose to grow is up to you. I recommend picking some you like, so if you regularly buy cherry tomatoes or salad tomatoes, grow some of those. Instead of growing a normal red cherry tomato, grow a yellow cherry tomato such as Golden Gem or a pear yellow tomato such as Nugget or an unusual crimson tomato such as Midnight Snack.


If you fancy something more unusual, try growing Cherokee purple for giant, beefsteak tomatoes that are a lovely shade of purple. Big Rainbow is another beefsteak variety worth growing due to its unusual striping. One of my favorites is Mortgage Lifter, which are giant red tomatoes. They got their name from the farmer who developed them. He was on the verge of losing his farm when he developed this variety of tomato which he sold at markets. It was hugely profitable for him and he was able to pay his bills and save his farm, including paying off his mortgage, hence the name!

There are lots of varieties out there and you will even find that different seed companies stock different varieties plus may have exclusive varieties. Choose some that you like and pick one or two varieties that are purely for fun, as an experiment; you never know, you may find a new favorite tomato!

Tune in to the next installment to find out the difference between F1 and Heirloom tomatoes and to learn what you need to start your tomatoes off!

Discover everything you need to know about growing tomatoes in my new book, “Growing Tomatoes” available in paperback and ebook in the UK here and the rest of the world, including the USA here.

growing tomatoes book cover


Building A Raised Bed Planter

Raised bed planters are really useful if you want to put a plant in the ground but do not want it directly in the soil. For example, I have an area of my plot which is quite waterlogged and full of weeds. I simply do not have the time to clear it and amend the soil as I have plants literally begging me to plant them out. So instead I build one of these small, raised bed planters and use that to lift the plant above the ground and grow in a highly nutritious soil (they are pumpkin plants and so need the extra boost).

double height planter - finished

You can make the planters as big or as small as you want but I built these large enough to hold a single big plant. I build two planters, which I will share with you here. One was 4″ high and the other 8″.

Tools you will need are a saw (electric is far easier), tape measure, square, screwdriver and screws or hammer and nails.

I used featheredge boards (used for fence panels) because they were cheap easy to get hold of. These were 5 foot long (60″) and were cut into four pieces of 15 inches in length. Therefore each board made one single height (4″) planter or two boards were required for a double height (8″) planter. For one of my planters I cut the boards at 20″ because I was putting a giant pumpkin in it and wanted to ensure there was enough room.

feather edge board cut to size

The stakes to go into the ground were a piece of 2″ x 4″ wood cut at an angle. I figured each one would be the length of the edges (4 or 8 inches depending on whether it was single or double height) plus four inches to go into the ground as a stake. So each stake was either 8″ or 12″ long. I cut the ends at an angle to form a stake purely because it was easier than trying to do it afterwards.

stake for raised bed

One or two of the edging boards were then attached to a stake at one end and then at the other to form an edge. I made two of these and then joined them together. I did use screws but to be honest nails are much easier though you will need to support the planter as the hammering makes it hard to keep it together and square. The second one I built I used nails and found it so much quicker to do!

raised bed edge

So I built two of the above and then used the other edging boards to join them together to form a box. It can require some balancing if you are doing it on your own so you may find it easier to get a friend to hold the wood for you.

3 sides of a raised bed planter

Then the final side was attached and the planter was complete!

finished planter

I’ll admit, it’s no oil painting and certainly won’t win any design competitions but I’m not particularly good at woodwork and it is functional. It will last a few years and do what I want plus it is small enough that I can move it when I want to put larger raised beds in that end of my allotment. It was cheap to make, the featheredge boards were 99p (around $1.50) and you only needed one for a 15″ square planter as it was 60″ long. The stakes were more expensive as that piece of wood cost me £2.99 (around $4) but made 10 to 12 stakes depending on the length.

So all in all these were very quick to make, taking about half an hour to make one. It would have been quicker to make the first one but I hadn’t realised my saw was blunt and didn’t have an electric saw. Making the second was far quicker as I used nails and an electric saw and it took less than 15 minutes, including stopping to take pictures!

planter on site, partly filled

Once the planters were made they were put in place and the stakes pushed into the ground. Because the soil was so hard I had to dig out holes for the stakes and one I couldn’t get flush to the ground due to the number of stones in the soil. They were filled with a mixture of compost, manure and top soil and then planted. The blue pellets are slug pellets to try to protect the plants.

The project was good fun and I will certainly build some more. I may even build full sized raised beds out of the featheredge boards if I am unable to obtain scaffolding boards at a reasonable price as it was remarkably easy to work with.