I must admit, there are some aspects to gardening I never pay much attention to. Tomato growth habits fall in this category. Pick a pretty or yummy tomato variety, stick it in the ground, cage it and forget it. While I have read about determinate versus indeterminate tomatoes, I never really paid much attention to what it actually means. So I did some research.....
Determinate tomatoes are those that are more compact and ripen all of their fruit at roughly the same time. Determinates are preferred if you preserve, due to this mass ripening. Small space, choose determinate. Don't like to do a lot of pinching, choose determinate.
Indeterminate tomatoes tend to vine - a lot! They definitely require staking or caging, even then they may require some pinching to keep them in check. Indeterminates do not make good container tomatoes for this reason. They also ripen over the entire growing season, which makes them perfect for summer sandwiches, caprese salad, and general munching. If you are preserving, the downside is you either need 50 plants to have enough fruit at one time or (like I do) freeze tomatoes until you have built up enough of a quantity to make preserving worthwhile.
You might ask, as I did (to myself of course), why don't we just plant determinates? Makes sense, right? This would be a great idea except for the fact that determinates make up about 10% or less of all the tomato varieties for sale. Some catalogs I looked at had none, some didn't label them, and when I did find them in a catalog there were only 2-3 choices. Your favorite heirlooms are most likely indeterminate, which is why we all grow tomato forests by the end of the summer!
Now that I understand the difference, and realize there is a difference, I feel compelled to experiment (I always need a good excuse to experiment with different plants). I have hunted down 2-3 different determinate varieties to try this year, but I cannot forget my long time favorite indeterminates (Green Zebra, Sungold, Pineapple, and Black Krim to name a few). Here's the crazy part - as a child i never ate fresh tomatoes. This was certainly not due to a lack of them, considering I grew up on a produce farm! Now as an adult I commonly grow 10-15 different types per year, for eating, canning and freezing.
Have experience with determinates? Please share pics or comments!