Heirloom tomatoes: Ready for taste tests
Heirlooms are plants that have been available for 50 years or more. The names of heirloom tomatoes tell stories: 'Mortgage Lifter' was named by the man who developed it in the 1930s after he paid off his mortgage from the sales of unnamed seedlings. 'Cherokee Purple' has its origins with the Native American tribe in Tennessee, and “Black Krim” comes from the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea.
Here are three to try:
Brandywine is a large, pinkish-red beefsteak type tomato with rich flavor and smooth, distinctive leaves. The contemporary heirloom tomato craze launched with this cultivar in the 1980s. Its origin is uncertain, but the seed company Burpee has offered Brandywine tomato seed since the 1890s. During spring, established Brandywine tomato plants can be purchased at local garden centers across the country.
Cherokee Purple tomato
Cherokee Purple is a reddish-purple, medium size beefsteak tomato with green shoulders, or tops, when ripe. Besides its beautiful color, this tomato is relished for its deliciously natural sweet taste. Cherokee Purple reportedly was grown in Eastern Tennessee for more than 100 years before seeds were sent to several growers in the 1990s for testing and introduction to the retail market. Seeds are widely available through mail order and online retailers, such as Park Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seed and Ferry-Morse Seed. Plants will be available at many garden centers in spring.
Camp Joy cherry tomato
Camp Joy is a cherry tomato with deep red, 1-inch fruit. An heirloom from California, the small fruit is packed with big tomato taste. This variety also has good disease resistance and is a prolific producer. Cherry tomatoes are great for snacks and in salads. Available at several online or mail order retailers, including Renee’s Garden Seeds and Tomato Fest. Plants probably will not be available at garden centers.
Tomato planting tips:
- Read the seed packet instructions for precise details, but tomatoes seeds can be started indoors four to six weeks before the last frost in spring.
- Grow tomatoes in six or more hours of direct sun a day.
- Tomatoes can be grown in the ground or containers. One five-gallon bucket is perfect for one plant. Make sure the container has drainage.
- Fertilize tomato plants according to the label instructions of the product you use.
- Tomatoes need about 1 inch of water every week, which can be rainfall or from the end of the garden hose. Adequate moisture is key to good fruit production.
- Keep weeds out of the tomato patch. Weeds rob plants of nutrients, including water, which can reduce production. Apply Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer, a natural, corn-based product that prevents weed seeds from germinating for 4-6 weeks. Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer can be applied when vegetable, herb or flower seedlings are at least 3 inches tall. The product is safe for use around children and pets.
- Harvest tomatoes as they ripen. This encourages the plant to continue production.