Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he became one of the first Americans to cultivate tomatoes for food. Before then, the fruit was generally considered poisonous in New World colonies, and only grown for ornamental purposes. Tomatoes grow wild in the Andes, but Native American tribes didn't rely on them much because they didn't save well. Today, many tomato varieties eaten all over the world.
Jefferson's logbooks indicate he started growing tomatoes in 1809, and some of them may have been Brandywines. The Brandywine is an 19th-century heirloom that is still sold today, and like most heirlooms it is an open-pollinated variety. This indeterminate variety produces large, reddish-pink fruit renowned for its sweet flavor. Because Brandywine plants are indeterminate, the plants need a large garden area, as they can grow up to 12 feet tall and should be staked or trellised. Fruit takes about 80 days to mature.
Better Boy (Hybrid)
Better Boy is a reliable indeterminate hybrid that is popular in home gardens. Hybrids are specially pollinated to produce consistent seedlings and fruits. The Better Boy produces medium to large fruit that are bright red and usually free from cracking and deformities. Fruit takes about 72 days to mature. Plants have been bred to resist nematodes and verticillium and fusarium wilt.
Early Girl (Short Season)
As its name implies, Early Girl tomatoes are some of the earliest that can be harvested. Impatient gardeners choose these plants for their ability to provide ripe fruit within about 54 days. Because of their quick-growing nature and dislike of intense heat, these plants grow well in northern climates that have shorter growing seasons and cooler summers. Plants are compact and produce small to medium sized tomatoes. The Early Girl is resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt.
Supersteak is a beefsteak variety, the largest type of cultivated tomatoes. Supersteaks are classified as extra large reds, with their fruit weighing up to 2 lbs. each, making support particularly crucial for the indeterminate plants' continued growth. Their size makes them more of a novelty than a good fruit producer because cracking and deformities are more likely to occur. Fruit is late maturing, taking about 80 days to pick. It is also resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt, and to nematodes.
Roma belongs to the category of plum tomatoes, which are primarily grown for canning and for turning into paste, catsup and sauce. Their fruit flesh is usually less moist than that of other varieties. The shorter plants are prolific producers, and fruit usually ripens all at once. Romas ripen in about 75 days, and the plum-like red fruit only weighs about 2 ounces. They are resistant to common tomato wilt diseases. Roma varieties include the determinates Amish Market and La Roma, and the indeterminates Cherry and Sweet Orange.