Author Topic: Are Determinate Tomatoes Weaklings?  (Read 67 times)

Kai Duby

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Are Determinate Tomatoes Weaklings?
« on: 2019-01-13, 09:26:32 PM »
I have read various accounts that determinate toms generally have a weaker root system (as above so below) and, given their reduced size, are generally weaker than indeterminates. This year was my first year really growing tomatoes in large quantities and it seemed to me that, yes, the indeterminates, although longer to maturity, tended to out perform the determinates. However, for the purposes of market gardening, the determinate tomatoes were more ideal for labor input, space requirements and generally a shorter time to yield.

I haven't seen very many farmers growing determinates for market and judging by the many schemes for trellising greenhouse tomatoes, there seems to be a disproportionate advantage to growing indeterminates.

It may be a "newbie" question but if determinate tomatoes really are doomed to a less-than fate then I might as well gear my tomato projects toward a more behaved indeterminate type.


Carol Deppe

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Re: Are Determinate Tomatoes Weaklings?
« Reply #1 on: 2019-01-13, 10:40:36 PM »
The big problem with determinates is they don't taste very good. This is supposedly because they don't have enough leaf mass to properly feed the fruits. The leaf to fruit ratio isnt optimal. So it's mostly people who arent very demanding with respect to tomato flavor who grow them. Or are beginners. Or are growing tomatoes in pots. Or just dont want to do the work of supporting.

I wouldnt call determinates weak necessarily. They are a smaller plant with a smaller root system that will yield only a small fraction of what an indeterminate plant will for the same cost in growing a transplant and transplanting. But determinates do take less space and arent as sprawling and unruly.

If you are short on space, consider dwarf varieties rather than determinates. Dwarves are capable of prime flavor. They are actually just indeterminates with very short internodes. The Dwarf Tomato Project folks have OSSI-Pledged and released nearly  hundred varieties. Reds, pinks, blacks, yellows, etc. See Victory Seeds for an excellent selection of dwarf varieties.
« Last Edit: 2019-01-13, 10:45:05 PM by Carol Deppe »

William S.

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Re: Are Determinate Tomatoes Weaklings?
« Reply #2 on: 2019-01-14, 12:04:39 AM »
I am interested in evolutionary breeding and in letting evolutionary and natural processes determine some of my selections. I also have a family tradition of growing only indeterminates which I broke at the online advice from the writings of Darrel Jones, Joseph Lofthouse, and in person advice from a local seed grower who produces seed for Silvery Fir Tree a determinate in 2016 and 2017. They argued for the merits of growing determinates in short season climates.

Determinates can have a place in short season tomato growing. They ripen all their fruit and can be extremely short season.

I was delighted in 2017 to find a number of ultra early varieties that can be reliably direct sown here in Montana. Most of these were determinate.

This worked so well that now I am pondering harder question like "can they be direct sown and dry farmed?"

From what I have read determinates usually do not do well dry farmed. I aim to test this and not simply accept it. If true my list of highly interesting extremely short season varieties can be shortened greatly and it would lead me to conclude that I don't want determinates after all. That they are as you say "weaklings" or perhaps from an evolutionary perspective "unfit" somehow broken and not adaptive after all. Though I have a lot of questions that have arisen from my recent experiments. All tomato plants seem to be much smaller when subjected to torture like being direct seeded in dense populations, inadequate water, nutrients, etc. It however seems to me that large population sizes can replace the productivity of large individual plants. So it seems possible that direct seeded and dry farmed determinate tomatoes might be possible, but that greater densities may be necessary and perhaps possible because of their small size. So I think that deserves some experimentation before I abandon my recent experiments in determinate tomato growing.

Carol mentions the dwarf tomato breeding project. That might be an alternative. Adaptive Seeds sells the shortest season tomato I've yet found. Sweet Cherriette which at 35 DTM is blazingly fast. It does this in part by being an indeterminate dwarf of some kind. This might be a more adaptive means to the same end as determinates. Or it might not, it deserves careful study in my opinion. 
« Last Edit: 2019-01-14, 08:19:17 AM by William S. »
Western Montana garden, glacial lake Missoula sediment lacustrian clay mollisoil sometimes with added sand in places. Zone 6A

Doro

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Re: Are Determinate Tomatoes Weaklings?
« Reply #3 on: 2019-01-14, 03:54:55 AM »
In terms of healthiness the determinate plants can be as healthy as indeterminate ones.
But since they stop growing at some point they do not have the same size of root system. That's good in pots and good to prevent bad splitting issues during heavy rain, but not so good when grown in ground with little water. During the last dry summer the determinate ones were struggling and had to be watered more frequently than the big guys, despite having less leaf volume to loose water. I found that very interesting, first time that we had so little rain to observe the downside of a smaller determinate root system.
I have not noticed a huge flavour difference in det vs. indet. There are good and bad varieties, just like in indeterminate plants. But that might be my cool climate, where the big ones can't max out their full potential. Or it might be the excessively long days (15-19h of daylight during the growing season) where even the shorter and less leafy plants can do plenty enough photosynthesis. Or it might be that most of my determinates are potato leaf and also on the large plant side of the det spectrum at ~1,5m. Probably a combination of all three factors.

Since I have built a taller greenhouse I mostly grow indeterminate plants with 2-4 stems per plant there. Using all 2,5m of precious head space and maximizing harvest in a short season by having more stems. 5 months are not much time and I start to remove new flowers in August, they would not grow to full size before frost comes.
The determinate ones grow in my old little greenhouse or outdoors in pots under a roof. They fill a niche of growing space in my garden and it's nice they don't need a heavy duty trellis.
I do not grow dwarfs at all anymore atm. I can't afford to let headspace go unused in the greenhouse and I can't grow tomatoes in the field with no shelter. It's too cold here and too rainy in normal years. I might try again at some point though. They could be suitable for hilled rows with low tunnels.

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Are Determinate Tomatoes Weaklings?
« Reply #4 on: 2019-01-14, 10:08:06 AM »
My climate is dry dry dry. That means that many of the moisture loving diseases that afflict tomatoes in other areas simply don't get established here. Around here, there is no reason to trellis as a disease reduction technique. We have about 90-100 frost free days, a very short growing season. Therefore, in this area, market growers plant determinate tomatoes. Sure, by growing on the ground, more fruits are lost to insects, rots, etc, but there is zero labor or material costs for trellising and field clean up. The field perishment of fruit can be minimized by picking at first blush, and ripening fruit indoors.

Outdoors, in my climate, determinates are much more productive than indeterminates, because determinates have already ripened their fruit by the time frost kills the immature fruits on the indeterminate plants. Determinate fruits taste better here, because a fruit that ripens during July's heat wave tastes better than a fruit that has spent the last few weeks of it's life shivering in September cold. About 4 determinate plants can be grown in the same space that one indeterminate plant requires, again leading to higher productivity on a per field basis.

I really like seeing the huge trellised tomato plants in the yards of the hobbyist growers around here. They look fantastic! What I like even more, is eating tomatoes during July, August, and September. The hobbyist gardeners get to eat green fried tomatoes in September.

I grow indeterminate cherry tomatoes, and indeterminate saladettes. They are early enough that they contribute significantly to the market garden. In recent years, I have been enjoying exploring the possibilities of  growing indeterminate tomatoes with about 3 to 4 ounce fruits. I expect that I'll be releasing a variety like that in the next few years. Something that starts flowering on the 4th leaf node, so that it will be early enough to be worth planting.



Here's a graph of productivity from my frost/cold tolerance trials. It's obvious why I declared Jagodka the winner. The varieties listed first are determinates, and last 2 are indeterminates. Of note in the graph, is that fall frosts were about 3 weeks late that year, and that in a typical year, the indeterminates wouldn't have ripened any fruit before frost. The last harvest in the graph was of green fruits...






« Last Edit: 2019-01-14, 10:22:13 AM by Joseph Lofthouse »

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Are Determinate Tomatoes Weaklings?
« Reply #5 on: 2019-01-14, 11:07:31 AM »
I've been reviewing my records.... My frost free growing season is about 13 weeks long. On average, the determinates started flowering 6 weeks before the indeterminates. The indeterminates took 3 weeks longer for fruits to ripen after flowering. That makes the indeterminates 9 weeks later than the determinates.

So the ideal indeterminate for me would start flowering very early, and would ripen fruit quickly. I grow an indeterminate like that. I call it Brad. It is tied with Jagodka (determinate) as the earliest tomato in my garden. Brad is a slow/steady producer, while Jagoka produces more fruits earlier in the season.  Too bad that I never made a Brad/Jagodka hybrid. I have been liking some of the indeterminate varieties that segregated from crosses I made between Jagodka and an indeterminate beefsteak.

Brad got incorporated into the Beautifully Promiscuous Tomato project, and Jagodka is getting incorporated this winter. Fairy Hollow is a descendant of Brad.

Jagodka:


Brad:


Fairy Hollow:
« Last Edit: 2019-01-14, 02:52:53 PM by Joseph Lofthouse »

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Are Determinate Tomatoes Weaklings?
« Reply #6 on: 2019-01-14, 11:11:22 AM »
As a market grower, there is a huge premium paid for being first to market, and for fruit that is taken to market early in the season.