Which Tomato Seeds To Start In A Small Space?

Posted on May 12 2010 - 3:10am by Mike Lieberman

Now that I have some seeds directly sown and another seed experiment going on, I am trying to figure out which tomato seeds to start for my balcony garden.

I have 7 packets that I received for free from WinterSown.org. You just need to fill out the form, send them a SASE and they’ll send you free seeds. Nice.

I learned on my fire escape that just because they are cherry tomatoes doesn’t mean it’s going to be a small plant. I don’t want to have a tomato tree on the balcony, but would like to grow some tomatoes.

A plant that grows to be about three to four feet tall would be great. I know that there are determinate and indeterminate plants, but am not sure of the exact difference between the two. Help identifying which seeds to start for the balcony would be appreciated.

    I have the following seed packets:

  • Principe Borghese – determinate
  • Silvery fir tree – determinate
  • Old German – indeterminate
  • Pondersoa red – indeterminate
  • Giant Belgium – indeterminate
  • Costoluto Genovese – indeterminate
  • Red pear – indeterminate

My guess is that one of the determinate varieties would be best. It would also help if these people spoke in English and just said, “plant grows to approximately x feet tall.”

Which do you think I should start for the balcony garden?


20 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Liz May 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm -

    indeterminate types produce over time (til “frost”, which we dont have here in Coastal SoCal lol, so its just til early winter/late fall) they are also more like a vine than a bush, so they have to have support.
    Determinate types produce all at once (great for making sauce) and are more like a bush, tho they do still need support.
    You can prune the tomatoes to keep theyre size down. When they get to 4 feet or so pinch the tops and they will focus more on fruit than new growth. (I forget where i read this! But i did try to last year and was able to keep a bush to about 4 feet and it get very wide! and had SOOO many tomatoes! It was a Determinate slicing tomato)
    btw welcome to SoCali! Hope you enjoy the long growing season we have!

  2. Liz May 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm -

    er sorry i meant an INdeterminate slicing tomato lol. Determinante ones dont need pruning other than to keep the size down. on indeterminate you prune to get bigger tomatoes ( http://organicgardening.about.com/od/vegetables… ) and keep theyre size in check.

  3. Mike Lieberman May 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm -

    Gotcha. Thanks for the info. So it seems like the indeterminate would be a lot of work for the balcony. Hmm, needs to think on this more.

  4. Sketchkat06 May 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm -

    Determinate means it gets to a certain size and stops growing taller then starts growing fruit and then it's done.
    Indeterminate means it will keep growing taller as long as it can and keep making fruit. I have also heard that you can pinch out the growing tip of an indeterminate to stop it growing taller but watch out – it will try to grow suckers to keep growing up like nobody's business!

    A quick web search says your Silvery determinate will be about 2 feet tall http://www.growquest.com/tomato%20silvery_fir_t
    Height info on your Principe determinate is more elusive…

  5. Sketchkat06 May 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm -

    Oh, thanks for the free seeds link BTW!

  6. Mike Lieberman May 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm -

    Word and a thank you for the info.

  7. billmcdorman May 12, 2010 at 6:55 pm -

    Try whippersnapper cherry. The best patio tomato we have found. Whatever you do, save seeds from the variety that does best. You can find seed saving instructions on the website of this 20 year-old non-profit:


  8. Mike Lieberman May 12, 2010 at 7:47 pm -

    Thanks Bill. Def need to do some seed saving this year. Appreciate the link.

  9. rhondadaniels May 13, 2010 at 1:02 am -

    Hi Mike!
    If you can string something upwards and let your indeterminate tomatoes 'climb', they will with a little support and a bit of tying. They do well with heavy pruning and sucker removal- without too much fruit loss. You can even train them to grow along a wire or railing. Just think of it as a sort of Veggie topiary 🙂

  10. MsChristy May 13, 2010 at 2:53 am -

    What I'm doing with my first ever attempt to grow tomatoes, and on a 2nd floor balcony at that, is to buy those cheap galvanized tomato cages, cut down the legs so that they each rest firmly on the bottom of each large container and the bottom “rung” rests on the top of the soil. I'm hoping the combination of bottom stability, support from the soil and side supports will be enough to keep them from toppling over once they're laden with tomatoes. Plus, it makes the entire container mobile, which stringing supports would have prevented. My containers are all quite a bit larger than 5 gallons, but I don't see why it wouldn't work for those as well.

  11. MsChristy May 13, 2010 at 3:22 am -

    Some info on the seeds you listed:

    Principe Borghese — determinate: best grown to dry as sun-dried tomatoes; plum fruit, paste taste fresh/raw; very prolific; short plant, but heavy with fruit so still requires support (2-4 ft tall) – http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/75481/

    Silvery fir tree — determinate: very pretty ornamental short plant (2-4 ft tall) with “classic” flavor (not sweet); medium sized tomatoes – http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/98131/

    Old German — indeterminate: a very large beefsteak tomato that many people love, but extremely tall plant (8-10 ft) – http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/54807/

    Pondersoa red — indeterminate: a beefsteak tomato, tall plant (4-6 ft) and 1-2 lb fruits – http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/60958/

    Giant Belgium — indeterminate: large 2 lb very sweet fruit, 6 ft tall or taller (up to 10 ft) plant – http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/98124/

    Costoluto Genovese — indeterminate: 4-8 ft tall plants, medium sized fluted fruits, “classic” taste good for sauce and canning, but also fresh if you aren't a sweet-tomato fan – http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/66133/

    Red pear — indeterminate: small pear-shaped cherry tomato; very prolific grower & fruiter; likes to sprawl, 4-8 ft tall plants – http://www.victoryseeds.com/catalog/vegetable/t… & http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/99745/

  12. MsChristy May 13, 2010 at 3:35 am -

    One of the varieties I'm trying I also received free, from http://www.dinnergarden.org – the only downside is that the packet only said “Mariana tomato” and there are a few variations…either it's going to be 2-3 ft tall and small plum cherry tomatoes or it's going to be 3-4 ft tall with medium tomatoes! Exciting 😀 http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/151850/

  13. Mike Lieberman May 13, 2010 at 4:50 am -

    Don't think I can do the stringing thing on my balcony. My neighbor would likely complain. Love the idea though.

  14. Mike Lieberman May 13, 2010 at 4:51 am -

    Thanks for all the info and lemme know how your tomato experiment works out.

  15. Murtaza Paghdiwala June 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm -

    Yo dude, I have been reading posts on your blog for some time now, thanks for the good information.

    Have you had any problems with pollination of your tomato flowers on your balcony? My plants in my balcony garden are starting to flower but I am afraid that the flowers are just falling off and not developing into tomatoes. I have two small tomatoes developing on one plant but nothing else out of the dozens of flowers I've seen.


  16. Mike Lieberman June 2, 2010 at 6:14 pm -

    Thanks reading. I don't have the tomatoes on the balcony yet. Still getting the seeds ready indoors, but didn't have any problems with the cherry tomato plant that I had on my fire escape last year.

    Not sure what the issue could be with your plant. Hmm…

  17. Esentuals August 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm -

    hi Mutaza

    You may want to try to plant some borage around your Tomato plants or put any flowering plants around your tomatoes. It will encourage pollination with bees and has helped with my container garden.


  18. Mike Lieberman August 27, 2010 at 12:02 am -

    Thanks for the tip. I've heard that Marigolds are great to plant next to tomatoes.

  19. Jesse Mabry October 20, 2010 at 3:04 am -

    Hey there,,,,just discovered this spot from one of my facebook friends. Good luck in your endeavors. Just wanted to share a bit of what I learned, everything I grow is in pots. I picked up a couple storage bins, the kind with lids that are sold at stores for between 5-10 buks,,anyway,,,got them at a resale shop for a couple bucks,,,and I grew 2 tomato plants in each. I use 7ft bamboo stakes to control the plants. I use 4 to a plant and use twine,,twine BEFORE the plant gets too big,,one of my many learning lessons, and it’s a little smaller than square foot size for each plant. Those tomato cages are a joke,,not at all sturdy enough. With the tomato plants, I grow marigolds, carrots and lettuce. I also do one tomato plant in a bucket similar to your size buckets, and use the bamboos stakes. A great book I learned alot from is called Carrots Love Tomatoes. Great info on companion planting. My preferred way to garden on my little slab of cement. Just started gardening 2 years ago and learned alot so far. A great spot to get variety seeds is seed savers exchange. seedsavers.org….They have some GREAT varieties of whatever, and it’s all heirloom.

  20. Mike Lieberman October 20, 2010 at 3:13 am -

    Thanks for all the tips and info. I think the tomatoes on my balcony right now might not be working because they don’t get enough sun. At least that’s the excuse that I’m sticking with.

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