A Garden Blog by Kevin Milaeger

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Tomato Talk---Shorter Varieties are Trending

March 17, 2017     
(See below for archives)

If you’ve got some years of gardening experience you already know there are two main tomato categories---vine (indeterminate), and bush (determinate). The vine tomatoes bear fruit from early July until frost, if all goes well and depending on varietal characteristics. Fruit can be of any type. The vine plants are tall, and require support. They can be pruned to control the height, but fruit production suffers. Most tomato fanatics feel they taste better than bush tomatoes, but plenty of people prefer bush tomatoes. Bush tomatoes grow to about 36” tall. Even though the plants are fairly short, some folks cage them because the cage helps keep the fruit off the ground and they are easier to pick. Bush tomatoes tend to bear over a short period. Big farmers like to harvest a plant only once, so they grow bush tomatoes almost exclusively. Also, the idea of caging or staking acres of tomato plants is impractical.

Bush tomatoes didn’t exist before the early 1900’s. An alert gardener noticed that one of his plants was growing considerably shorter than the others, and bore its fruit all at once (more or less.) No doubt this wasn’t the first time this happened in the world. Other gardeners might have thought the plant was stunted, and discarded it. Or they didn’t pay much attention, or simply ignored it. But this one gardener saw the potential in the plant. Soon, bush tomatoes were widely available, and now there are many varieties. We’ve already talked about why farmers like bush tomatoes. Many home gardeners do, too. They don’t like the hassle of plant supports. The compact habit of bush tomatoes is ideal for container growing, although you can certainly grow vine tomatoes in containers, given the proper cage.

Plant breeders never stop trying to create a superior tomato. A category that is getting more attention from breeders is that of “semi determinate” or “short indeterminate” tomatoes. These are shorter, more manageable plants (like bush tomatoes), that bear fruit until cold weather ends the season (like vine tomatoes.) The best of both worlds. Gardeners like the sound of that. Superior flavor, disease resistance, and a heavy yield are other characteristics that the breeders also strive for. We are growing a number in this category. In our “Vintage Veggie” program (mid-May only) we are offering five types, including two cherry tomatoes. In our regular tomato production, we have ‘Crimson Sprinter,’ ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Legend,’ and several others.

Still another “new” class is that of dwarf tomatoes. Dwarf tomatoes have been around for a while, but lately there has been much interest in the development of new varieties. With a few clicks you can learn all you want about the “Dwarf Tomato Project,” which is aimed at developing new varieties and distributing them to growers for trialing around the country, and the world. One of the main people in this effort is Craig LeHoullier. You may have seen his recent book, titled “Epic Tomatoes.” Or you may have tried one of the tomatoes he created, such as ‘Cherokee Purple.’ He thinks there is a big future in the dwarf tomato category. There are at least two dwarf tomatoes that have been on our list for years and continue to have many devotees. They are ‘Patio’ and ‘Husky Cherry Red.’ The latter, especially, has always scored well at our blind taste test at Tomatomania. Both are noted for their short stature, their extra thick stems, their deep green leaves, and their “hairy” leaves. In the plant world, we call this last feature “rugose.” Many plants have this characteristic. One you might know is the rugosa rose. You can participate in the dwarf tomato project by getting some seed (see LeHoullier’s website), and reporting your results. Sounds like fun to me.

If you enjoy growing huge tomato plants, we have some new cages that might interest you. We’ve always had metal cages, but most of them aren’t very tall, and the metal on some is of a lighter gauge. They are fine for bush tomatoes or peppers. Vine type tomato plants need a bigger cage, and you need to upgrade. One of our new cages is 6’ tall and 21” wide (A). It is square, and folds up for easy storage. It is sturdy and will last a long time if you don’t abuse it. There is a 5’ version that measures 18” wide. Another new cage is 5’ 4” tall and consists of two halves (B). Each half has three sturdy legs. The two halves link together, forming a round cage. You could also use just half the cage, against a fence, for example. However, the halves are sold only in pairs. These are much easier to store than round cages because you can nest them. The third type is very different from what we are used to. It is sold in individual panels that interlock with one another. Each panel is 66” high and 20” wide (C). You could use three or four panels to surround a plant. They could also be used in a zigzag pattern, and used for peas, beans, or cucumbers. You could also use them for ornamental vines.

For tomato growers, one of the most disheartening things is to grow a tomato plant all season only to have it fall over just before you pick the first fruit. You need to invest in a sturdy support system. If these cages seem expensive, it is because they are the best ones we have been able to find. You could buy one or two a year until you get the number you need. Better yet, put them on your “wish list” and let others buy them for you for your birthday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, or some other event. It won’t be a surprise, but you’ll be happy!

Please email me (kevin@milaegers.com) if you have any questions or comments.



 Archives  (Click on the green text for links)


March 2017 - Tomato Talk---Shorter Varieties are Trending
March 2017 - It's Only the Start of March, but...
February 2017 - Tasty Greens and Winter Tomatoes
February 2017 - Green is Right Around the Corner
October 2016 - Autumn Greens, Eggplant and more
September 2016 - The Tomato Polls are Closed, the Winner is... 
September 2016 - Pity the Hornworm? Maybe not.
August 2016 - It's true!---Sometimes tomato beauty is only skin deep!
July 2016 - Summer Heat Means Fast Ripening
July 2016 - July Tomato Update---a few concerns
June 2016 - The Great Bell Pepper Challenge!
June 2016 - Super Start for 2016 Vegetables!
May 2016 - Tomato Planting Date Inches Closer!
May 2016 - Vintage Veggies Now & Disease Resistant Tomatoes!
April 2016 - A Few New Plants & Garden Updates!
April 2016 - Go Outside---It's Time for Planting!
March 2016 - Yep! ----It's Time to Plant Greens!
March 2016 - The Quest for the Perfect Tomato
March 2016 - Think Green! It's almost time to plant
February 2016 - Pepper Pointers: it's all about patience
February 2016 - I See Greens on the Horizon
January 2016 - Tomato Disease --- What can you do?
January 2016 - Tomatoes on my Mind!

November 2015 - My Late Harvest (The tomato picking continues...No Kidding!)

October 2015 - Its Mid-October---the End is Near!

September 2015 - 2015---Not the Year of the Pepper!

September 2015 - Top Varieties at Tomatomania 2015!

September 2015 - Get the most from September tomatoes!

August 2015 - Tomatomania 2015---Coming Soon!

August 2015 - Oh No!!!......Freaky Tomatoes

July 2015 - A Marvelous Community Garden

July 2015 - Finally----the first ripe tomato

July 2015 - Is it Possible to overdose on peas?

July 2015 - The Garden in July --- I'm still planting!

June 2015 - And Just When Things Were Looking So Good...

June 2015 - Tomatoes, Cukes, and a Whimsical Onion

June 2015 - Trials and Tribulations in the Veggie Garden!

May 2015 - Trouble in Tomatoland!

May 2015 - Tomatoes are Claustrophobic

May 2015 - A Little Chilly, but it's Rhubarb Time!

May 2015 - Joan's Rhubarb Torte Recipe

April 2015 - "Ketchup and Fries" plant video

April 2015 - Early May in the Vegetable Garden

April 2015 - What Vegetables Can I Plant Now?

April 2015 - Making Salad Interesting

March 2015 - Ready... set... GROW!

March 2015 - Unusual Potatoes --- Not Just for Tots Anymore!

February 2015 - Next Month is Spring!

February 2015 - Greens to Grow 2015


September 2014 - Tomatomania Review 2014!

September 2014 - Tomatomania Results by Category or Cummulative

August 2014 - Kale! Kale! The Greens are Here! Click here for Recipe

August 2014 - The August Harvest Begins

July 2014 - Greens to Grow for Fall!!!  Click here for Spreadsheet

July 2014 - My Tomatoes are Blushing

June 2014 - Some Tomato Concerns

May 2014 - Garden Update --- the Cold Weather Experiment

May 2014 - Is it Time to Plant Tomatoes?

May 2014 - Vintage Veggies #4 and Vintage Veggies List 2014

April 2014 - A Chilly Spring... What Can I Plant Now?

March 2014 - Start Growing Your Own Food Right Now

February 2014 - Greens to Grow   Click here for Spreadsheet


October 2013 - Keep Calm and Garden On!

October 2013 - Autumn Vegetables

September 2013 - Tomato Popularity Poll Results Blog

September 2013 - Tomatomania Category and Cumulative Results

September 2013 - Tomatomania 2013 Blog, Video and T-Shirt

August 2013 - Greens to Grow and Spreadsheet

July 2013 - Spaghetti Squash

July 2013 - New Tomato and Zucchini Recipe Blog
July 2013 - Tomato and Zucchini Recipe

June 2013 - Cold Spring - What it Means for Vegetables
May 2013 - Tomatoes in Containers
May 2013 - Vintage Veggies 2013
April 2013 - My Tomato Garden Preview 2013
April 2013 - Don't Forget Rosemary!
April 2013 - It's Planting Time
March 2013 - Onions
March 2013 - Vintage Veggies
March 2013 - Greens to Grow Update
February 2013 - Hot Peppers
February 2013 - Grafted Tomatoes
February 2013 - Greens to Grow

September 2012 - Tomatomania Results
July 2012 - Compass Plant
July 2012 -July 2012 - Heat Wave
June 2012 - Okra
June 2012 - Potato Onion
May 2012 - Gas Plant

May 2012 - My Tomato Garden
May 2012 -
Vintage Veggie Fest
March 2012 - Growing Raspberries in SE Wisconsin
March 2012 - Winter Tomato Project
February 2012 - Success with Sweet Peppers
February 2012 - Vegetable Cukes Miniature
January 2012 - Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2011 -Tomatomania Review 
August 2011 - Tomatomania Preview
August 2011 - Racine Vegetable Garden Tour
Summer 2011 - Vegetables in my Garden
July 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
June 2011 - Vegetables - Diseases made Simple
June 2011 - Vegetables - Container Growing
May 2011 - Vegetables - Squash and Tomatoes
April 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Event Preview
March 2011 - Vintage Veggie Fest Announcement

September 2010 - Tomatomania Review 
August 2010 - Flowers Late Summer Color
July 2010 Vegetables Cukes and Tomatoes
June 2010 Tomatoes New Varieties

September 2009 - Tomatoes End of Season Review 
September 2009 - Tomatomania Review
July 2009 - Tomatoes General and Fruit Set Problems
June 2009  - Tomatoes Fertilization
June 2009  - Tomatoes Personal Experience
May 2009 - Tomatoes General
May 2009 - Tomatoes Diseases
May 2009 - Tomatoes Selecting and Growing
April 2009 - Tomatoes General

Any questions or comments, please contact us at: gardenquestions@milaegers.com