BACKGROUND Size of fruit is an important issue in determining yield at harvest. Even under controlled conditions, variation between fruit and trusses can be considerable. As an easy to measure indication of size, the diameter of tomatoes growing in trusses was assessed in three experiments with different number of tomatoes per truss, as well as cultivars, and also by varying the level of ions in the recirculated drain water. RESULTS By applying the von Bertalanffy growth model, more than 99% of the variation present could be explained by the time of fruit set for all tomatoes growing anywhere in the trusses. A linear relationship between time of fruit set and the biological shift factor, an indication of developmental age, was observed. Integrating this linear relationship in the analysis of the diameter data removed one stochastic variable (biological shift factor), effectively halving the number of parameters to be estimated. CONCLUSION The results of the present study indicate that the major part of the variation present in the diameter of tomatoes growing in trusses is the result of variation in the time of fruit set of individual fruits. The position within the greenhouse (i.e. local differences in assimilates supply) exerted only a minor effect on diameter development. Accordingly, the time of fruit set largely determines fruit size. Likely, growing conditions before fruit set are crucial for final fruit size. The time of fruit set of each tomato in the truss and the local growing conditions within the greenhouse that affect assimilate supply need to be assessed accurately for a reliable size prediction.