Choosing the best high-yielding tomato plants is more than a little complicated, but there are a few simple tricks to pick the best plants. Everything from variety to the health of seedlings and when you plant them will give you an indication of how many tomatoes each plant will produce.

In this guide, I’ll be giving an indication of the sort of harvests you can expect from different tomato varieties, as well as some more detailed analysis on getting the most from each plant, as well as a few gentle reassurances that some things are out of our control!

No matter how much we gardeners plan, we can’t control the weather. And with tomatoes, there is nothing more important to get the best harvest from each plant than a proper balance of sun and water. 

The last few years have proven quite difficult for home growers, with long cold winters, short wet springs, and long dry spells through summer. This is bad news for tomato growers, but there are ways around it.

Tomatoes need as long a growing season as possible as they spend about 50% of the year on pure vegetative growth (shoots and leaves) and the other 50% on fruit production. Shorter springs mean smaller plants, and therefore a shorter flowering/fruiting window.

Like most veg, tomatoes come in a few different sizes, but that doesn’t necessarily affect overall yield. Smaller fruiting tomatoes, like cherry tomatoes, can produce over a hundred tiny tomatoes each year. Bigger fruit, like Supermama, a gorgeous beefsteak, can produce the same weight in tomatoes but only produce 9 or 10 fruits.

To plan how many tomatoes per person, choose the right variety for you using our guide to tomato yields per plant first.

If you’re eating tomatoes every day of the week, in salads, soups, and sauces, then you’ll need a full greenhouse of tomatoes (a typical 6x8ft greenhouse can fit 24 plants in with appropriate ventilation). 

However, for a more standard diet, a single grow bag, with three tomatoes will produce more than enough tomatoes for one person to enjoy fresh fruit through summer and into early fall.

For maximum yields, aim for a mix of cherry, plum, and beefsteak tomatoes. That gives you all the variety you need for different meals, and they’ll all pollinate each other. Choose the right variety for the right spot too.

Indoor tomatoes need to be in full sun, either in a greenhouse, conservatory, or sunny window. Outdoor tomatoes will grow happily in full sun in a garden bed enriched with fresh compost or rotted manure.

For salads, you’ll need either cherry tomatoes or salad tomatoes (the juicy, perfectly round, thin-skinned types). For me, that’s always Black Cherry or Indigo Rose. Their darker skins help them ripen faster, and with a sweeter flavor, which makes them ideal for a sugary but zesty hit mixed through a fresh leafy salad.

Indigo Rose isn’t the biggest-yielding salad tomato though. For higher yields, choose Zlatava or Tigerella, which ripen unevenly on each vine, meaning a longer cropping time and less chance of gluts.

There is no greater sauce tomato than Roma, the traditional Italian plum tomato, bred for its deep umami flavor and thick, pulpy flesh which helps to thicken soups and sauces.

Smaller varieties like the yellow Banana Legs tend to produce more fruit through the season, but it tends to be later cropping. For more reliable, long-lasting harvests, choose a basic plum, like Roma, which can grow equally well indoors or out.

One grow bag, with three high-yielding plum tomatoes, will produce enough fruit to eat and preserve for the winter months for a family or three.

For baked tomatoes or casseroles, beefsteaks are ideal. Their firm flesh holds up well to slow cooking and their rich flavor helps to bring other ingredients together. 

Supermama is a cross between beefsteak varieties and plum tomatoes but is one of the highest-yielding tomatoes you can buy. The downside to beefsteaks is that they tend to ripen at once, and produce fewer fruits, meaning a short harvest time, and less of the year with freshly picked tomatoes.

To feed one person with enough tomatoes for the year, a single three-hole grow bag, with one plum, one cherry, and one salad variety, would be a great combination. Try Roma, Tigerella, and Black Cherry for a mix of easy-to-grow tomatoes that will work indoors or outdoors – ideal for any gardener, no matter what space you have available.

One important piece of advice for fresh-faced tomato growers; try something different. There are some varieties that are easier to grow, like blight-resistant Mountain Magic, but other than a select few, most tomatoes are equally high maintenance, and you can get far more joy from heritage and heirloom tomatoes than you would from typical supermarket varieties.

OK, so if you’ve worked out how many tomatoes you need, the next step is taking care of them. Tomato care is easy, but high maintenance. From intuitive watering methods to planting location, ventilation, and pruning, you can’t really go wrong as long as you follow some simple rules:

  • Tomatoes are thirsty plants but don’t like to sit in damp conditions. Water them heavily (until water runs out of the base of a container, or the soil is saturated), and then let the top layer of soil dry out before watering again. In most conditions, this is twice a week, but in full southern sun, it can be daily. 
  • Prune cordon tomatoes to a set height, and leave bush tomatoes to do their thing. For both types, prune anything within 4-6” of the soil to prevent damp leaves from watering.
  • Remove any damaged, dead, or diseased foliage whenever you spot it. Black spots or brown spots can be signs of blight. Prune with clean secateurs, and clean them with detergent between each plan to prevent reinfection.
  • Ensure good ventilation around each plant. This means planting tomatoes at least 2ft apart, or 1ft apart in grow bags, with 1ft of space around each bag to allow air circulation.
  • Start feeding tomatoes when the flowers appear, not before. Then feed them once or twice a week with a concentrated liquid feed mixed into their water.
  • Support your tomatoes, no matter the type. Even bush tomatoes benefit from a  central bamboo to stop them from bending under the weight of their fruit.
  • Use companion planting, like basil, calendula, marigolds, and nasturtiums to prevent aphids and blackfly. Basil is particularly effective and can be grown in the same pot without harming your tomatoes.
  • Never wet their leaves. Rain is ok, but excessive moisture on tomato foliage causes blight and other fungal problems. 
  • Make sure they can be pollinated. For greenhouse tomatoes, keep the doors open during the day to let bees in, and close them at night to keep a steady temperature. Tomatoes can only be naturally pollinated by bees as the unique vibrations release their pollen.

If you stick to these rules, you’ll have loads of fresh, juicy tomatoes ready to harvest by mid-summer or early summer in the south. All it takes is an hour or so a week to take care of your plants, and they will reward you with more than enough tomatoes for one person to last through summer and fall.

Tomatoes might be needy plants, but anyone can grow them. Planning yields is surprisingly simple though, as most tomatoes produce between 20 and 30 LBs of fruit per year. The difference comes in the size, regularity, and length of the harvest. 

Our basic advice is that one grow bag (or three tomato plants) is enough for one person per year, but doubling that will give you a high enough yield for preserves, chutneys, and frozen sauces to last right through winter. 

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