There are a great many varieties; gardeners should choose varieties that will yield the type of tomatoes that they or their family enjoy.

Tomatoes are one of the most widely grown of all garden plants, edible or flowering. There are a great many varieties; gardeners should choose varieties that will yield the type of tomatoes that they or their family enjoy. There are two main types of tomatoes, bush and vine.

Bush tomatoes

Bush tomatoes are determinate, that is, they grow to a specific size, produce fruit and then die. With their shrub-like growth habit they do not usually need staking. Some bush tomatoes are also known as early tomatoes. Along with a relatively short time to maturation, these tomatoes will blossom and fruit with low night time temperatures, a fixture at the tail end of most Calgary summers.

Vine tomatoes

Vine tomatoes are considered indeterminate. That is, they continue growing for an indeterminate length of time. This means they will grow and produce fruit until the frost kills them. Vine tomatoes need to be planted in tomato cages or staked for support. Fruit from unsupported plants may rot and discolour on the round. Vines should be tied to tomato cages or stakes with stake tape as they grow.

A good tomato seed package can provide you with lots of helpful information.

Here is some of what you should find on it and what it all means:

The name, such as Big Beef, is the specific variety of tomato.

The average number of days from transplant to harvest.

All tomatoes are either determinate, indeterminate or semi-determinate:  

Indeterminate (I) plants continue to grow as long as the weather permits, continuing to bloom and set fruit.

Determinate (D) tomatoes grow to a predetermined size and produce all their fruit over a short period, usually 2-4 weeks.

Semi-Determinate Rambling growth. Earlier maturity. Produce more than one crop. Good for the short season

Indeterminate tomatoes require staking/support while most determinate (bush) varieties do not.

Plants are either Hybrid (developed by crossing two or more parent plants) or Open Pollinated. Seeds saved from a Hybrid tomato will produce a tomato, but not the same variety. Seeds from an open-pollinated variety will produce the same tomato if no other variety was grown nearby.

Each letter represents resistance to a common tomato problem:

  • V = Verticillium Wilt
  • F = Fursarium Wilt
  • N = Nematodes
  • T = Tobacco Mosaic
  • A = Alternaria

Starting Tomatoes Indoors:

  • Starting seeds indoors gives the home gardener more choice over variety.
  • You can extend what would otherwise be a relatively short growing season. (100 days)
  • The choices of tomato to grow can be quite daunting as there are so many varieties to choose from. There are many favourites and only so much room.
  • There are a lot of tomato seeds in a package. Plan on sharing the wealth.
  • Choose varieties from the number of days to maturity shown on the package.
  • Swap tomato plants with friends so you can try different ones


  • Containers must have good drainage and be able to hold soil and water without falling apart.
  • Peat pellets (jiffy) - compostable and ideal for tomatoes which dislike disturbance when transplanted Reusable, commercially available containers - These include plastic pots, cell packs and 10- or 20-row starting trays. Seeding into either will usually involve transplanting.
  • Cell packs are made of lightweight plastic and are partitioned into 4 to 9 individual cells or compartments which fit into a plastic drip tray.

Potting Mixtures

  • Potting mixes for seeding should be able to hold moisture and yet remain aerated, and they should be non-crusting. Generally, a soil-less mixture is recommended for the first sowing and a soil mixture for transplanting. This reduces the risk of damping-off, a common fungal disease affecting seedlings.
  • Soil-less mixtures usually consist of some combination of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. They are lightweight and uniform.
  • Tomato seeds are usually covered to a depth of their diameter.
  • They require a fairly warm soil temperature to germinate. Seed heating mats help with most seed varieties.
  • Once germination has occurred, the seedlings will grow better at a lower temperature, usually about 10 degrees lower than their germination requirements.
  • Provide good lighting and air circulation. A fan in the room will increase air circulation.

Employ Growing Lights

We are starting many seeds here in Calgary when sunlight is still low. Augment sunlight or replace sunlight with grow lights at 16-18 hours a day. Keep the lights low enough that the seedlings do not stretch, but also high enough not to burn them. The ability to move the light up and down should be considered when buying grow lights.


Plant tomatoes in a warm, sunny place with good drainage. They also do well in large containers on a deck or patio and thrive with reflected sun behind them as well as direct sun.

NOTE: Tomato seedlings should be planted deeper than most other seedlings, up to their first set of leaves. Larger plants should be planted several inches deeper than they are in the container.


Tomatoes require consistent, deep watering to thrive. Soil should be checked for moisture every day in hot weather. Water well, do not sprinkle - the whole root ball needs moisture. Be sure that containers have good drainage. Mulching around the base of tomato plants will help them to retain water and discourage weed growth. Drought causes black patches on the bottom of the fruit (blossom end rot), which are unsightly and make the fruit inedible.

NOTE: The more direct sun for tomatoes the more flavour.