There are so many factors to consider when shopping for tomato seeds, but the first consideration should be to pick varieties that will grow in your area.
If you’re in the US, the best thing to do is check your state’s cooperative extension service. According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Through extension, land-grant colleges and universities bring vital, practical information to agricultural producers, small business owners, consumers, families, and young people.”
Find your local extension by searching “Extension Service (and your state).” Each state’s website will be different, but usually you can navigate to a “home & garden”-type area and find which specific varieties will grow best in your area.
Most online seed companies categorize tomatoes by the following categories:
Plant Type/Habit: Bush/Dwarf, Determinate, Indeterminate (see more info below)
Color: Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Multi, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, Stripped, White, Yellow
Size & Shape (of the fruit, not necessarily the plant): Extra-Large, Large, Medium, Tiny, Small, Pear, Oxheart
Climate/Maturity: Super Early, Early, Mid-Season
Use/Qualities: Fresh Eating, Cooking, Preserving/Canning, Storage
Flavor: Tart, Balanced, Sweet
Resistance/Tolerance: Cold Tolerant, Disease Resistant, Drought Tolerant, Heat Tolerant, Insect Resistant, Moisture Tolerant (more info below)
Determinate vs. Indeterminate?
Do you want your tomatoes to be determinate or indeterminate? Basically, determinate tomatoes will all ripen within a few days. These varieties are great if you plan to make large batches of salsa or spaghetti sauce – you want them to all be ready at the same time. The plants are usually bushy and they require about four squares in your SFG.
Indeterminate tomatoes are usually vining-types. These are the ones you want if you plan to grow them vertically in one square of your SFG. If you plan to grow them one per square, you’ll want to learn proper pruning and suckering. Suggestion: Even though you can successfully plant tomatoes one per square, we suggest you plant them in every other square and plant a lower plant between them. Great ideas are basil, chives and other herbs that go great when eating your tomatoes.
When looking for disease-resistant tomato varieties, we won’t be able to go into what each of them is, so you’ll have to research that yourself. The time to learn about tomato disease problems is before you order your seed.
Your extension service should be able to give you more information on tomato diseases common in your area, but look for these abbreviations in the catalogs:
A – Alternaria Stem Canker
F – Fusarium Wilt
N – Nematodes
St – Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot
T – Tobacco Mosaic Virus
TSWV – Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
V – Verticillium Wilt
YLCV Yellow Leaf Curl Virus
As you can see, there are a lot of things to think about when selecting what tomato(es) you’d like to put in your Square Foot Garden.