Growing Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes have flavors, colors and textures that are quite different than regular store bought tomatoes. These are the varieties that our grandparents and great grandparents grew many years ago that are full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and cancer preventing agents.

The colors normally determine the amount of acidity, darker colors are more acidic and lighter colors are less acidic. The more red a tomato has, generally follows with the amount of sweetness and green in a tomato, determines tartness. Yellow and orange varieties usually have a milder and sweeter flavor while purple and black varieties have a bold, rich, acidic flavor. Growing several of the different tomatoes available is a good way to find new favorites for your garden.

Cherokee Purple

One of our favorites is Cherokee Purple, a dark acidic full flavored fruit that just makes your mouth feel good. Amish Rose which has a luscious sweet flavor and a texture that is fantastic just melts in your mouth. From Green Zebra which is tangy and sweet to Great White that has a smooth texture and a flavor that makes you think you are eating a melon, these tomatoes are exciting and make gardening fun.

Pink Berkeley Tie Dye & Virginia Sweets

Pink Berkeley Tie Dye or Virginia Sweets have fantastic stripes and coloring. The stripes actually give them flavor, not just color! The deep red stripes add more acidity and the gold color adds sweetness. You will love the complex taste.

Arkansas Traveler, Brandywine & Amish Rose

Arkansas Traveler, Brandywine and Amish Rose are pink but not grocery store pink. This is a rosy red that is bursting with that old fashioned tomato flavor that you remember from your childhood. Don’t settle for bland, cardboard tomatoes when you have access to the richest most flavorful varieties of these fantastic heirlooms.

Sara Black

A new purple tomato is full acid flavor with a meaty texture and full-on sweetness. We chose it for pasta so we could throw it in some Penne with some garlic, onions, sweet peppers and Italian sausage. Try some of our other fantastic purples such as Black Krim, Purple Rosella (a dwarf plant variety) and Black Cherry, a rich and zingy cherry type.

Sweet Million & Sweet Baby Girl

Sweet Million and Sweet Baby Girl are both cherry tomatoes but each has a different quality that makes it special. Sweet Million is prolific as well as sweet. Expect this plant to get large, as much as 8 feet tall and you will not be able to eat all the fruit it produces. Sweet Baby Girl is a tamer and smaller plant and can be easily grown in a container for a tasty snack on your patio all season long.

Other Cherry Types

Other cherry types are Sun Gold, very sweet, Golden Sweet (small shaped like tiny light bulbs), and Grape Rosalita, a powerful punch in a tiny tomato!

A Note About Growing Heirlooms:

Heirlooms can also be unpredictable from year to year. We list the expected number of days to ripening but this can vary greatly depending upon your weather and growing conditions. Keep in mind that heirlooms can sometimes produce less fruit than the hybrids that you may be used to, so plant extra and plant several varieties so you have a continuous harvest throughout the season.

A variety that produces well one year in a garden may not be as happy the next year and can produce much less fruit. For more consistent results, grow some hybrid varieties as well as heirlooms in your garden. One season with bad results will convince you to add a few of them and we have some really nice hybrids that are sure to please. Try Carmello, 4th of July, Legend, Rutgers and Margo for a full tomato flavor with good disease resistance and productivity.

Mulching is extremely important to keep moisture conditions the same from year to year and to prevent diseases. Don’t try to grow the heirlooms without this protection. Planting your tomato plants deeply will give them a head start on growing a strong root system. Bury them in the ground two thirds of the way down or to where the stem begins to thin out. They will send out roots from the stem and begin their top growth more quickly as well as anchor them in to the soil. More roots mean they can feed themselves faster.

Staking and supporting tomatoes can be tricky with heirlooms that grow well over 6 feet tall. Customers have reported needing a ladder to reach the top of their tomato plants. Make sure to use good strong stakes or trellises that can hold lots of weight. Most commercial cages are much too small for tomatoes although they work fine for peppers and eggplant. We recommend making your own out of sturdy wire fencing and anchoring the cages to the ground to prevent them blowing over in the wind or try our new tomato cage supports that anchor to a stake.

Always water deeply and slowly getting water down where the roots of the plant are is very important and keeping the leaves dry will help prevent diseases. Plants naturally droop a little bit in very hot weather so don’t water them unless the soil seems dry. Soaker hoses send a slow trickle of water down deeply and left on for an hour or so at a time, about once a week (if it doesn’t rain) is all they need.

With heirlooms picking fruit must be done before they are fully ripe. Harvest fruits as soon as they start to turn color and they will quickly finish the ripening process in your kitchen. Once the ripening has started, they don’t need sunshine to finish becoming sweet and picking them early will prevent them being eaten by critters (or neighbors) before you can.

When Should I Plant My Vegetables and Herbs?

The best time to plant is not the same for everyone. Each person has to decide at what point their garden is ready for plants. Fortunately we are not alone in this endeavor. We have many tools to help us decide when spring has arrived and it is safe to plant in our backyards. The first thing we need to do is determine when the average last frost date will be in your city. Click here to view our recommended shipping dates . These dates are based upon NOAA weather statistics and indicate the 90 percent likely last frost date for your area but it is OK to wait a few days and up to a week or two, just to be safe.

Conditions for Planting

You need to determine whether or not your soil has dried out enough to dig up the soil for loosening and adding compost. If you pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it between your fingers and it feels muddy and very moist, wait a week or so of sunshine before digging. If it feels soft and moist, but not wet, it is ready to be worked. Lastly, you need to make sure no cold weather is on the horizon. Many times a last minute frost has ruined lots of hard work and planting by killing off tender seedlings. Better to wait a week or two than plant too early.

Additional Help

Read our FAQ: About Tomatoes

What is an heirloom? What does Hybrid mean? What tomatoes are GMO’s? What does Organic mean?