Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family Solanaceae, and the genus Lycopersicon esculentum. Their plants are vines typically growing 6 feet or more above the ground if supported on stakes or in cages; however, quite a few erect bush varieties have been bred in the last 3 decades that generally peak at 3 feet tall or even shorter. Thus, tomato plants are typically divided as indeterminate or determinate.
1.Indeterminate tomatoes develop vines that never top-off and continue producing until frost kills the plants at the end of the gardening season. They are preferred by home growers and local-market farmers who want ripe tomatoes available throughout the entire growing season.
2.Determinate tomatoes are the erect, bush-type tomatoes that bear a full crop all at once and top-off at a specific height. They are often a good choice for container gardening, and they are valued for canning because all the tomatoes ripen at the same time.
There are around 7,500 tomato varieties throughout the world – having been selected with varying fruit types, and for optimum growth in differing growing conditions based on climate, soil, garden pests, and many other factors that influence their plant growth and fruit production. Among the many tomato types available, Heirloom tomatoes have gained popularity in recent years among some home gardeners and organic producers since they tend to produce interesting and flavorful crops, but typically with less disease resistance and productivity.
Hybrid tomato varieties are more commonly selected for home gardening since they tend to be heavier producers that have more resistance to various diseases and pests, and sometimes combine unusual characteristics of heirloom tomatoes with the ruggedness of conventional commercial tomatoes.
Tomato varieties are subdivided into several categories, based mostly on shape and size.
1.Slicing, or "Globe", tomatoes are used for a wide variety of fresh eating, and they are often referred to as “Salad” tomatoes as well.
2.Beefsteak tomatoes are large, meaty tomatoes often used for sandwiches or to eat simply as juicy slices. Beefsteak tomatoes are popular for home gardening also because they are typically not grown commercially since they have thinner skin and a shorter shelf than other types of tomatoes.
3.Oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks, and are shaped like large strawberries.
4.Plum tomatoes, or “Paste” tomatoes, are bred with higher solids content for use in tomato sauce and paste, and are usually oblong.
5.Pear tomatoes are obviously pear-shaped, and are based upon the San Marzano types for a richer gourmet paste.
6.Cherry tomatoes are small, round, and sweet tomatoes generally eaten whole in salads.
7.Grape tomatoes, a more recent introduction, are smaller than cherry and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes, and used in salads.
8.Campari tomatoes are also sweet and best noted for their juiciness and low acidity. They are bigger than cherry tomatoes, but smaller than plum tomatoes.
Most modern tomato cultivars are smooth surfaced, but some older tomato cultivars and most modern beefsteaks often show pronounced ribbing. And some cultivars – especially heirloom varieties – produce fruit in other colors than red, including green, yellow, orange, pink, black, brown, ivory, white, and purple. Most of these varieties are not widely available in grocery stores, nor are their seedlings typically available in typical nurseries, but they can be bought as seed.
Various other facts about tomatoes include:
1.Tomatoes are preserved in home canning as whole, in pieces, as tomato sauce, or as paste. The fruit is also preserved by drying, often in the sun, to later be used in recipes calling for “sun-dried” tomatoes. Unripe green tomatoes can also be breaded and fried, used to make salsa, or pickled.
2.Tomatoes benefit the heart among other organs. They contain lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants. Tomatoes are also rich with vitamin C and vitamin A, as well as various beneficial minerals.
3.Tomatoes keep best unwashed at room temperature and out of direct sunlight. Refrigerating fresh tomatoes is usually not recommended since this can lessen the flavor. Tomatoes not yet ripe can be kept in a paper bag to finish the ripening process.
4.Tomato cultivars vary widely in their resistance to disease. Modern hybrids focus on improved disease resistance over the older heirloom plants. One common tomato disease is tobacco mosaic virus, so smoking or use of tobacco products is discouraged around tomatoes. Various forms of mildew and blight are also common tomato afflictions, which is why tomato cultivars are often marked with a combination of letters that refer to specific disease resistance. The most common letters are: V – verticillium wilt, F – fusarium wilt strain 1, FF – fusarium wilt strain 1 and 2, N – nematodes, T – tobacco mosaic virus, and A – alternaria.
5.Some common tomato pests are cutworms, tomato hornworms, aphids, whiteflies, tomato fruit worms, and red spider mites – as well as several others.