We grew three tomatoes this year from James Baggett, vegetable crops breeder at Oregon State University until his recent retirement. They represent the culmination of over 20 years of breeding work by Jim and his staff. We're evaluating the tomatoes for NOFA- NY along with a number of organic farmers. Jim sent us two breeding lines back in 1982 one was Oregon 11 which is probably no longer available but certainly was a harbinger of what would come from his program. The other was Gold Nugget which is still one of my favorite early cherry tomatoes. Just about all of the tomatoes from his breeding program are parthenocarpic. This allows the tomato to produce fruit without pollination so for the cold and damp coastal region of the Pacific Northwest as well as in other areas, fruit is produced extra early regardless of the right conditions for pollination and fruit set. The result are tomatoes that, under adverse conditions, will be seedless.
The following photos show the OSU determinate tomatoes being trialed this summer at Flanders Bay Farm. Later, we'll fill you in with our findings.
Determinate tomatoes can be very compact, spreading, bushy or quite sprawling. The stems terminate in a cluster of flowers as opposed to those tomatoes which are indeterminate and produce a cluster of flowers and a stem bud which continues to grow as the flowers become fruit. Indeterminate, are; in a sense, immortal. They will keep on growing until frost or disease stops them and usually can use some support as their vines increase in length. determinate tomatoes "top out". As clusters of tomatoes form, vines are terminated and the plant develops a more controlled growth which may benefit by staking in order to keep the fruit off the ground but not to contain the vines. Usually, you would not want to prune determinate tomatoes.
Usually, I think of determinate tomatoes as field tomatoes, row after row of them either as floppy, somewhat compact bushes or in neat rows with lines of tomato string providing support on both sides of the bush. As more breeding work continues and determinate - indeterminate hybrids result, sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between growth forms these days. determinates can be quite branching and can produce as much foliage as an indeterminate.
Most of the heirloom tomatoes and the later maturing varieties are indeterminate. The classic indeterminate is the old "Trip-L-Crop" amazing climbing tomato which of course, doesn't climb. It's the one the Burgess people used to show being harvested on a man on the ladder. Trip-L- Crop was also known as Italian Tree or Italian Potato Leaf tomato.
Determinate tomatoes tend to be compact and early. They are useful for gardeners in colder climates where a lack of summer heat and the short season makes it difficult to grow most indeterminate. The classic determinates were the old Sub-Arctic tomatoes which produced small tomatoes in clusters at the center of the plant. It was a concentrated set so they all matured at the same time, then the plant died. Sometimes the plant died before the tomatoes matured. These compact determinates tend to be very prone to fungus wilt diseases which can thrive in cold, damp soils where these types are often grown.
Not all determinate tomatoes are grown simply for an early crop. The ability of these small vines to produce a concentrated set has proved invaluable. One can harvest the entire field of tomatoes in one or two passes. This ability certainly paid off for the large scale tomato grower who can harvest the low bushes with harvester machines designed to do this. The processing industry depends on determinate tomatoes bred especially for their needs.