"Indeterminate" or "Determinate" Tomatoes, What's the difference?

photo: Lisa Muhammad
The above photo is a picture of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes I grew last summer. I decided last year to grow both "indeterminate" and "determinate" tomatoes. Here's the difference...

Determinate tomato plants are those that will produce their crop all at once and ripen all at once. Also referred to as "bush" variety. They typically grow about 4 feet tall. Determinate plants are usually (but not always) compact and more easily manageable. Popular determinate varieties are Roma, Rutgers, and Margloble.

Indeterminate will produce their crop all throughout their growing season. The vines usually grow very long from 6 - 20 ft.  And have to be staked  or trellised as you'll see below.
Some popular varieties are Black Krim, Cherokee Purple and Brandywine
Some other examples of indeterminate vegetables are squash, cucumbers, green beans shown in my garden below...

In the photo below, on the left are heirloom tomatoes. They were indeterminate. Typically indeterminate plants will grow long vines. I cut these stakes about 7 feet in length. By the end of the growing season, the tomatoes grew to the top of the stakes. 

If you're wondering what the white poles are, those are pvc pipes I inserted into the soil along with the stake. At the end of the pipes I drilled holes. This is a method I used to water the tomatoes. 

Here's a photo of the tomatoes from another angle later in the season. I wish I had taken a better photo. They're on the right. If you look carefully, you can see they've grown as high as the corn and to the top of the stakes.  

My niece, early in the morning looking for tomato longhorns underneath the leaves. 

Here's one she found.

Here's a cherry tomato plant. I can't recall the variety. They grew past the stake. In fact, we got quite overwhelmed and didn't keep up with tying it to the stake as it grew. If you look carefully, you can see the vine growing over the little fence area onto the ground. I had to pick tomatoes practically every other day to keep up with it. I simply bag them and put them in the freezer.

And I mean really overwhelmed...

When you look for your tomato plants, read the label and it will state if the plant is "determinate" or "indeterminate". The abbreviations will be, "DET" and "IND". Sometimes, but rarely indeterminate will be abbreviated "INDET". 

Determinate are probably better for containers. You can certainly grow indeterminate plants in containers, you just have to be more diligent in taking care of them.

Determinate tomatoes are also great for canning. You'll get your harvest all at one time.

Indeterminate is great for having the fruit throughout the season for salad and other recipes.