Let’s face it, we’re not all gardeners. Some of us have green thumbs and some of us don’t. I personally am in the camp of the person who wants to have a green thumb but it doesn’t come naturally. I didn’t grow up in a household that gardened, unfortunately, and my mother only grows flowers. Which are nice, but in general, you can’t eat ’em.
So when I wanted to get a garden going at my own home, I had to do a lot of research. I was surprised at some of the basic things about gardening that I didn’t know. For instance, the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. The first few years of my gardening I never paid attention to the tags that came with the garden starts I bought, so I was always surprised with the mixed results I got.
Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes
To explain that difference, determinate tomatoes are often called “bush” tomatoes because they grow to about 3 or 4 feet high. This is the type to plant if you are into canning, drying or freezing because the plant produces the entire crop within a one to two week period. These types don’t need cages or staking, although it is fine to use it. This is also an easy to care for plant because you shouldn’t remove the suckers from these types of tomato plants. Because they are compact and more “bushy” these are a good type of plant for a container. Most hybrid tomatoes and early varieties are determinates, because commercial growers like the ability to harvest all at once.
Indeterminate tomatoes are often called “vine” tomatoes and these grow to about 6 feet tall. The last time I tried to grow an indeterminate tomato in one of those flimsy little tomato cages, the cage darn near broke in half. These plants will produce crops all season long, until it gets too cold. They like the suckers removed, because it helps them focus their energy on the fruit-setting. Because these plants grow so large, they are not a good choice for containers. Most heirloom varieties are indeterminate tomatoes.
There are some semi-determinate tomatoes, that as you might guess have characteristics in between the two types. Now, about hybrids….
Why You Should Only Save Heirloom Seeds
Choosing seeds for the garden, particularly for the survival garden, is different than just selecting seeds based on growing a nice looking vegetable. You can choose from three varieties of seeds: open-pollinated, hybrid, and heirloom seed varieties. Each of these seed types has something to offer, but for the survival garden, you should choose heirlooms, and here’s why.
Many of the seeds that are commercially available are from hybrid plants. Hybrids are plants that have had the parent plants chosen because of some qualities that the grower wants to pass on in the next generation of plants. Seeds saved from hybrid plants will not be true to type, meaning they are genetically not going to produce you the same type of plant you saved it from. The genetics of what plants result from your seeds will not be predictable. Farmers who grow hybrid plants have to buy new seeds each year because the artificial pollination results in seeds that will either not produce the type of plant you were expecting or may nor product a plant at all.
Open-pollinated plants produce fruit when some pollination happens from natural sources such as bugs or wind. These plants can easily cross pollinate, which can cause a great variety of resulting fruit, particularly among things that cross-pollinate easily, like squash. If pollen is shared among different varieties, as in a small garden plot, your seeds will not be true to type. Again, this means that seeds you save from these plants will not produce the same type of plant you saved them from.
Heirloom varieties are seeds that were passed down because they were particularly good at what they do, whether growing in a particular area, producing an abundance, being cold tolerant, bug tolerant, drought tolerant, or some other good quality. Gardeners saved these seeds because they were reliable and good tasting. Heirloom seeds will give you the same type of plant as the parent plant. In some cases, particularly squash, in order to avoid open cross pollination, you should grow the plants in separate areas.
And here’s another tip….we don’t recommend buying survival seed packages, even though the advertisements can make these deals sound too good to pass up. Thousands of seeds for hardly any money and all that. The reason we don’t recommend this is because the varieties are chosen for you. There are numerous different garden “zones” based on weather and some varieties will not grow in zones other than the ones they are well suited for. Varieties that grow well in Florida will not grow well in Oregon. Your best bet is to get in touch with a nursery that is close to you and get a list of varieties that are tested and proven to do well in your growing area. Buy those, because they’ll be more likely to perform wherever you are. Also, selecting your own seeds means you can get the seeds that you and your family will actually want to eat. If no one likes radishes, even though these are super easy to grow, do you really want 1,000 radish seeds?