What’s a Determinate?

determinate vs. indeterminate tomatoesIf you ignore the yellowing, early blighted leaves (which were snipped moments after this photo was snapped), you’ll see a still-producing Isis Candy cherry tomato towering above its neighboring Gold Nugget.

It towers because it’s an indeterminate — that is, it keeps going and growing and going. Until diseases finally fell is, that is. The Gold Nugget, one the other hand, has about had its day. It has reached its determined height, produced a couple pounds of tomatoes, and is about to expire.

The determinate vs. indeterminate is an important consideration for gardeners, especially those with limited space. Like, for instance, this particular roof deck gardener.

This year, POD selected two indeterminate varieties (the late Chocolate Cherry and the ailing Isis Candy) and two determinate varieties (Gold Nugget and Tumbling Tom). Because POD’s seduced by the idea of an ever-growing, ever-producing tomato, the larger and ungangly and space-hogging indeterminate is quite fetching. However, because disease is a constant lurking threat, the short(er)-lived and compact determinate has its merits.

Choosing Cherries

Tomatoes, that is.

Tomato quiche with 2008 farmers' market cherry tomatoes.
Tomato quiche with 2008 farmers' market cherry tomatoes.

The smooth, juicy, sugary flavors of heirlooms are, by far, POD’s preferred tomatoes. One of life’s greatest pleasures is a plate of glistening multi-colored tomato slices with just the lightest dash of quality balsamic vinegar, a teeny pinch of salt, and a sprinkling of fresh basil.

Cherries? No way! Small, sour, acidic, red and boring. Or so we thought. We were wrong. And nearly went broke buying buckets of them at the farmers’ market last summer. Seriously, it was like an addiction.

Given the various tomato frustrations last year’s crop of full-size heirlooms brought, cherry tomatoes seemed like a fine way to go. Prolific, earlier yields seem appealing. Furthermore, the little blue deck gets a decent amount of summer sunlight (5-10 hours), but given the houses that surround it, the hours of sunlight vary widely from May to August and containers are constantly shifting locations to keep up with maximum sun. Cherry tomatoes, evidently, are a little more flexible than their full-size brethren.

This year POD’s sprouting a yellow Tumbling Tom, Chocolate Cherry, Gold Nugget, and an Isis Candy.