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The Best Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow

Have you wondered why heirloom tomatoes taste so much better than those conventional ones from the store?

Conventional tomatoes have been bred for long shelf life, disease resistance, high yield and even for their looks! Some say all the flavor and taste has been bred out of them, too.

So whether you say to-may-to or to-mah-to, we’re here to help you choose the perfect heirloom tomato variety for you.

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 What is an Heirloom Tomato?

Heirloom tomatoes come from seeds that have been handed down from farmer to farmer for generations for their special characteristics and varieties must be 50 years old at least. Because of this, heirloom tomatoes have minimal disease resistance.

Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated–meaning that the seeds you collect will produce plants almost identical plants year after year. That’s key to their survival.

Many heirlooms have been passed down generation to generation. Seeds, once considered valuable property, traveled country to country in pockets or through letters. Varieties come from Central America, Russia, Italy, Japan, France, Germany and Kentucky. Here are a few of our favorites.

Best Heirloom Tomatoes to Grow

 

Pink Brandywine– This is hands-down the yummiest and most popular heirloom. Dating back to 1885, these tomatoes ripen late in the season, but delight with huge tomatoes with even bigger flavor. Plus, Pink Brandywine tomatoes grow well in containers.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 85-100 days
  • Taste and Texture: Intense, full flavor with a rich, velvety texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-9’
  • Spacing: 24-36” apart
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Black Cherry – This black, heirloom cherry tomato is somewhat disease resistant and easy to grow – even in containers. The truly striking color makes these cherry tomatoes an instant conversation (or kabob!) starter.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 65-75 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet meets smoky flavor with a meaty texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 5-8’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Cherokee Purple – Cherokee purple tomatoes may look eccentric, but boy, do they taste good!  Believed to be passed down from Cherokee Indians, this variety produces significantly more tomatoes than other heirlooms.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-90 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet, juicy and savory with a thin skin
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-9’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes – Cage or stake

Striped German/Old German – This sizzling red and orange tomato looks like a work of art. Slice it open, and you’ll be delighted by its intricate texture and pattern. Also called “Old German,” this sunny tomato produces huge beefsteak tomatoes. It does need constant, proper care to thrive.

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-85 days
  • Taste and Texture: Incredibly juicy with a faintly tart flavor and meaty texture
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4-8’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Yes –  Cage or stake

Wapsipinicon Peach – Bright in color and flavor, these tiny, fuzzy yellow tomatoes make the perfect snack. Named for the Wapsipinicon River in Northeast Iowa around 1890, Wapsipinicon Peach tomatoes are resistant to rot and field blight. Plus, they are quite prolific!

  • Growth Type: Indeterminate
  • Time to Maturity: 75-80 days
  • Taste and Texture: Sweet flavor with little acidity and fuzzy, thin skin
  • Light: Full sun
  • Plant Size: 4’
  • Spacing: 24-36”
  • Staking: Recommended – Cage or stake

Why Should I Grow Heirlooms?

We believe the flavor of heirlooms is so superior that no garden would be complete without them. Try a variety this year, and we’re sure you will agree. You will be tasting a little bit of history all summer long.

When you’re organic gardening, be sure to feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.  

And if you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as easy tomatoes to growhybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

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A Seed Ahead: Preserving Tomato Seeds

You’ve had a great season tending to your tomato plants! But with the summer winding down and chilly days coming soon, you may be wondering what to do with your tomato plants now.

Get a head start on spring by preserving the seeds from your tomatoes.

Tomato seeds might be available at the store year-round, but saving your own is satisfying and easy. Luckily, September is the perfect time to begin planning for next year!

How do I pick which seeds to preserve?

The general rule of thumb is to only take ‘open-pollenated’ seeds or heirlooms. Hybrid plants often produce sterile seeds. Or, they do not produce seed with the same desirable traits of the parent plant.

Harvest seeds from tomatoes that are healthy and embody the characteristics you’re interested in preserving. For example, you could pick seeds from the juiciest tomatoes, or the ones with the most interesting colors. It’s your choice, but make sure you pick from healthy plants. Unhealthy plants could carry illnesses.

If possible, save seeds from multiple plants.tomatoes-101845_1920

Method 1: Air-dry

This method is pretty simple. Open the tomato and remove the seeds, squeeze them onto a paper towel, wait for the seeds to air dry and then store them in a jar, an envelope or even the same napkin. This method is quick and straightforward.

Method 2: Ferment

It’s not absolutely necessary to ferment your tomato seeds, but fermenting makes it easier to completely separate seeds from the gel that surrounds them. Fermenting also eliminates the bad seeds and reduces the possibility of seed-borne disease for next season.

1. Wash the tomatoes. Slice each in half across the middle (not the end with the stem). Squeeze the seeds and juice into a (labeled) glass or plastic container.

2. Set containers aside when half-full. Place containers in an area that is out of direct sunlight and out of the way, so the fruit flies and odor will not bother you.

3. Let the seeds sit for three to five days or until the surface of the container shows a whitish mold. This is a good thing! The seeds should be floating at this point. In warmer climates, you may need to add some water to keep the seeds afloat.

4. Gently scrape the mold off with a spoon. Do not remove the seeds.

5. Fill container with water and then stir it. The seeds you want will sink to the bottom.

6. Pour off the excess to remove floating seeds and pulp.

7. Repeat the process until the good seeds, at the bottom, are cleaned.

8. Pour the good seeds into a strainer, then rinse and drain them.

Storage

An airtight container works best for storage. When packaged correctly, tomato seeds remain usable for up to six years!

You can place the seeds in the refrigerator or freezer, but the seeds will last even when stored at room temperature. When you’re ready to use the seeds, if they’ve been chilling in a refrigerator or freezer, let them adjust to room temperature first to prevent excess condensation from creating any damage.

For more tomato tips, check out our total tomato growing guide!

Be sure to visit us on our Facebook page or Twitter page and tell us how you plan to preserve your tomato seeds!

Top Tomato Recipes, Straight from the Garden!

We cannot get enough of fresh summer produce! Whether you started tomato plants from seeds or seedlings, we bet your tomatoes are full of summer flavor.

Whether red, purple, green, yellow or orange, tomatoes are our favorite summer fruit. While some tomatoes are good for canning and preserving, others taste best when used freshly-picked. Try these new recipes to amplify the already amazing summer flavor of your tomatoes.

Preserve tomatoes now to enjoy the sweet rewards of your summer veggie garden long after harvest season is over.

10 Tomato Recipes You Must Try

1. Tomato and sweet onion salad: Make this salad ahead of time for superb flavor come dinner. Bonus points if made with onions and basil also picked from your garden.

2. Risotto stuffed tomatoes: You’ll want to turn on the oven for this one. Use firmed tomatoes that’ve just been picked off the vine.

3. Eggplant, tomato and smoked mozzarella tart: Try this recipe for a twist on the usual Caprese salad. Crispy crust and tender vegetables make this recipe a keeper.

4. Tomato jam: Steer away from tomato sauce by making jam. Enjoy with crackers and cheese for a delicious appetizer.

5. Classic roasted salsa: Jalapenos give this salsa just the right amount of heat. You’ll never buy store-bought again after you’ve made your own salsa.

6. Grilled Green Tomato Tostadas: Green tomatoes don’t always have to be fried, although they certainly are delicious. Black beans, avocadoes and cilantro combine to make these satisfying tostadas.

7. Pasta with sun gold tomatoes: Yellow tomatoes standout in this beautiful pasta dish. Serve with crispy bread and a garden salad for a complete meal.

8. Best Gazpacho: NYTimes offers up this recipe from Seville, Spain. Serve this creamy, orange version in chilled glasses for a refreshing sip.

9. Sliced tomatoes with corn and feta: A simple no-cook meal to enjoy when the nights are warm. Arugula and oregano give this salad a spicy kick.

The list could go on and on. What’s your favorite way to use your freshly-picked tomatoes? Tell us in the comments or share your pictures on our Facebook page

Harvesting Tomatoes Made Easy

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for – tomatoes are ready to harvest! You can almost taste the delicious flavors of that first bite.

Whether you’re cooking, canning, freezing or simply eating your tomatoes raw, you’ll want to pick them at the perfect moment. These harvesting tips will ensure your organic tomatoes are ripe when picked.

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Timing is Everything

One of the first steps to a successful harvest is keeping a close eye on your tomatoes to determine the best time to pick. Tomatoes are typically ready to harvest 60-85 days after planting seedlings outdoors. However, timing can change depending on your climate and the variety of tomatoes you’re growing.

If you’re planting determinate tomatoes, be ready for a large harvest all at once. These varieties typically set and ripen their fruit within about two weeks.

Indeterminate tomatoes can ripen all summer long, so keep an eye on these varieties throughout the season to ensure peak harvesting times.

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Color is Key

When the tomato has even color throughout, it is typically ready to be harvested. Tomatoes often ripen from the bottom up, so check the bottom of the tomato first for mature growth color. Once the entire tomato has reached this color, it is ready to be harvested.

Tomatoes need heat to harvest, and not necessarily light. They continue to ripen on overcast or cloudy days, as long as the temperature is warm. Tomatoes can even continue to ripen off the vine. If you live in an area with an especially hot climate, it’s better to pick the tomato from the vine before it reaches its mature color. Tomatoes will continue to ripen and change color as long as they are stored in warm temperatures.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Trust Your Instincts

When it comes to harvesting tomatoes, trust your intuition. Ripe tomatoes should feel firm, but not hard. Overripe tomatoes will be soft and can be composted. Ripe tomatoes should feel full and heavy. Under ripe tomatoes are often lightweight and need more time on the vine before harvesting.

Keep a close eye on your tomato plants as harvest times come near. Overripe tomatoes typically become too heavy and fall from the vine. This can lead to disease and rot, causing you to lose a large portion of your harvest.

When tomatoes are ready to harvest, simply twist off the vine by hand or use clippers for larger tomatoes. Cut the stem close to the fruit and enjoy!

How do you plan on using your fresh tomato harvest?

For more tips on tomatoes, check out our Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes.

Protect Your Plants – 4 Common Tomato Pests

When it comes to insects in your garden, don’t be quick to kill. Not all insects are enemies. In fact, most insects are essential players in your organic garden’s success. Others are neutral and don’t cause any harm. Yet some will ruin your harvest.

Spotting the difference between the good and the bad can be tricky, so keep your eyes peeled.

It doesn’t matter if you’re growing hybrids or heirlooms, there are a few pests you don’t want around. Identify harmful pests early before damage is done.

Four Common Tomato Plant Pests:

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If you spot a hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand.

Hornworms – These destructive caterpillars can grow to about 3-3½” at full size, but their green color makes them difficult to spot. If you spot hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand. However, where there is one, there are usually more. If there is a large infestation, consider spraying tomato plants with an organic approved pest control.

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Photo courtesy of courtesy of Flex at en.wikipedia

Fruitworm – Adult tomato fruitworms are moths, typically yellow or olive in color. They often lay eggs near the leaves of the plant. If you see fruitworms, check leaves for eggs. Larvae feed on leaves and foliage before moving to the tomato, giving you more time to stop potential damage.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Potato Aphids – These tiny insects are usually found in dense clusters. Potato aphids are typically not serious enough to kill plants, but a large enough infestation can stunt growth and lead to mold and disease. If you spot an infestation, remove it and be sure to throw in the garbage. If thrown on the ground, aphids will re-infest the plant. To control, apply insecticidal soap

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of USDA.

Beet Armyworm – Similar to the fruitworm, beet armyworm adults are moths with gray and brown upper wings and white or pale gray lower wings. They typically lay eggs on the underside of leaves. When larvae hatch, they feed on foliage before attacking the tomato itself. Remove beet armyworm caterpillars by hand before they become moths.

When it comes to tomato pests, the best way to stop damage is to spot pests early. Keep a close eye on your tomato plants, especially in the early stages. Introduce beneficial insects such as lacewings or ladybugs into your garden to naturally control common pests.

Pruning tomato plants and giving them the right support can also make pests easier to spot and keep bugs at bay.

For more tips on tomatoes, check out our Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes.

Tomato Woes – How to Solve Common Tomato Diseases

No other flavor in the garden can compete with sun-ripened tomatoes! Just seeing their bright, shiny color emerge gets us giddy!

We want to make sure you get to experience the joy of your homegrown, golden delights this year.

So, if you spot a worrisome sign on your tomatoes, here’s how to identify and fix it – the organic, natural way!

Dr. Tom A. To: How to Identify and Fix Common Tomato Diseases and Problems

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Photo courtesy of Dwight Sipler.

The Mark of Dark Spots. First, you’ll see tiny spots on tomatoes’ lower leaves, usually after the first fruit has set. From there, the spots grow larger and begin to look like a target. That’s early blight.

To fix, remove infected leaves as well as lower leaves. Water in the morning to prevent further spread of this fungus. Low nitrogen levels often cause early blight, so feed with Tomato-tone monthly.

Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

The Bruise Blues. If small, sunken spots or what looks like bruises appear on your ripe tomatoes, that’s anthracnose. This fungus emerges as the weather gets hot and humid – usually 80° or warmer.

So, harvest ripe tomatoes as soon as possible. These are safe to eat if you cut off the bruises. Then water tomatoes in the morning.

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Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden.

So Many Spots. If tiny, greyish-brown dots cover your tomato leaves, Septoria leaf spot is to blame. Soon, leaves will fall off. Though, a harvest will usually still happen.

To remedy, remove all infected leaves. Then apply a copper fungicide – if you’re organic gardening.

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Brown Bottom. See circular brown spots on the bottom of your half-grown tomatoes? That’s blossom-end rot, which is usually caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. Blossom end rot should only happen to a few tomatoes early in the season, not the whole bunch.

To fix, use an organic tomato fertilizer with calcium.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of Victor M. Vicente Selvas

Built to Wilt. Wilting, curling leaves could be bad news for your tomatoes. If paired with stunted grown or browning veins or blotches, your tomatoes have Fusarium or Verticillium wilts. These diseases are caused by a super vicious fungus in the soil.

And, there’s no cure for it. Remove and rid your garden of these tomatoes. Do not compost. Then, solarize the soil to kill the fungus. Otherwise, when you plant veggies in the same area, they, too, will get this disease for the next 4-6 years.

Next time, when you’re growing tomatoes, select disease-resistant varieties to avoid some of these common problems.

How Much Water Do My Tomato Plants Need?

Imagine having a successful, bountiful tomato harvest every season — juicy, red tomatoes ready for the kitchen.

The good news? You can! Tomato care isn’t hard.

When it comes to growing tomatoes in your organic vegetable garden, the secret is in the soil. Maintaining consistent soil moisture is crucial for a successful harvest.

When, and how frequently, you should water your tomato plants depends on the variety, size and location.

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Start Your Seedlings

When starting tomatoes from seed, the soil can dry out quickly since seedlings are typically in small containers or trays. Check soil daily to ensure it has not dried out.

However, seedlings require very little water. Use a spray bottle to mist seedlings and keep just the top of the soil moist.

If the soil becomes too wet, move the seedlings to an area with increased air flow and hold off on watering again until needed. Never let seedlings sit in a puddle of water.

As seedlings begin to sprout and grow, they will need more water. If the soil in the tray dries in less than 24 hours, it might be time to move your seedlings to the garden or a larger container.

The best way to give your tomatoes the care they need is to closely monitor the plants and the soil moisture weather.

Growing in the Garden

When you plant tomatoes right in the ground, the roots can extend deep into the soil as they seek out water. Water newly planted tomatoes well to make sure soil is moist and ideal for growing.

Early in the growing season, watering plants daily in the morning. As temperatures increase, you might need to water tomato plants twice a day. Garden tomatoes typically require 1-2 inches of water a week.

Container Tomato Plants

Tomato plants grown in containers need more water than garden tomatoes. Soil in containers heats up faster which leads to more water evaporation.

A good rule of thumb for containers is to water until water runs freely from the bottom. Water in the morning and check the soil moisture levels again in the afternoon. If soil feels dry about 1 inch below the surface, it’s time to water again.

Keep Tomatoes Well Fed

Adding organic mulch to tomato plants reduces evaporation in the soil. That means less watering, so you can save time and resources.

Add Espoma’s organic Tomato-tone, a slow release premium plant food, for bigger, healthier roots that can withstand a little drought and excess heat.

There are many factors that affect how much water tomato plants need, such as weather conditions and the size and growth rate of the plant. Every plant is different! The best way to give your tomatoes the care they need is to closely monitor the plants and the soil moisture weather.

Visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Stop Blossom-End Rot

You’re on your way to growing the perfect tomatoes. Once you’ve selected your favorite varieties, planted and cared for the seedlings, all that’s left is to take a bite into your first harvest.

But wait. That tomato doesn’t look so appetizing.

If a dark, water soaked spot has formed on your tomato you may have blossom-end rot. This problem is likely caused by an imbalance of calcium in the plant. You may also see this on peppers, squash, cucumbers and melons. The spot enlarges and darkens rapidly as fruits develop. Large spots will dry out and appear to be leathery.

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Tips to Keep Blossom End Rot Away

  • Maintain consistent soil moisture throughout the growing season. When the weather is dry, water at least twice a week and moisten the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches.
  • Plant tomatoes in warm soil. Seedlings planted in cold soil are likely to have limited nutrient uptake.
  • Fertilize with Tomato-Tone to make sure plants are getting the nutrients they need.
  • Amend soil to maintain soil pH at or near 6.5.
  • Add a layer of mulch to minimize evaporation and help maintain consistent soil moisture. Remember not to volcano mulch.

The reasons are many as to why the plant may not be able to take up enough calcium to support the fruit, but most lie in the soil. The best way to prevent blossom end rot is to have a soil test done before planting to determine if the soil has adequate calcium.

Other reasons include:

1. Fluctuations in soil moisture

2. Excess of nitrogen in the soil

3. Root damage

4. Soil pH that’s either too high or too low

5. Soil that’s too cold

6. Soil that’s high in salts

Unfortunately there’s no use saving these tomatoes. Pick off damaged fruit as soon as you notice the rot and compost them.

Visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks. Choosing tomatoes to plant? Check out the easiest tomatoes to growhybrid tomatoes and non-red tomatoes.

Tomato Suckers: What Do With Them

Tomatoes are one of the easiest things to grow in your organic garden. Plant, feed, water and eat!

Yet a few simple tricks will help you be more successful and produce a ton of fruit!

Today’s garden tip: What to do with tomato suckers?

First, let’s determine what tomato suckers are. Then, you can choose whether or not to keep them.

What Are Tomato Suckers?

Tomato suckers are small shoots, or leaves, that sprout out from where the stem and the branch of a tomato plant meet. Although relatively harmless to the plant, suckers don’t serve much of a purpose.

They can, however, draw energy away from the main stems, decreasing tomato growth.

How to Prune Tomato Suckers

  1. Keep a close eye on your tomato plants. Eliminate suckers while they are just a small ½” stem.
  2. Remove by simply snapping them off at the stem. If you need to use a tool, use a sharp pruner blade to make a clean cut.
  3. During peak growing season, pull unnecessary suckers and flowers at least once a week.
  4. Pruning is especially important if you are growing indeterminate tomatoes. This variety produces fruits all season long, as opposed to a single harvest. They require more attention and maintenance in order to encourage growth.

Pruning tomato suckers is one of the keys to a successful harvest.

To Prune or Not To Prune…

Some argue that tomato suckers are beneficial because more leaves can lead to more fruit.

This is true, however, less dense tomato plants may produce larger, juicier tomatoes. (Don’t forget, to also use Espoma’s organic Tomato-tone to promote growth of plump tomatoes.)

Removing tomato suckers can also decrease risk of disease caused by prolonged moisture. With fewer leaves, plants receive more air and leaves dry quicker. Fewer leaves also provide fewer places for insects to nest and gnaw.

Because suckers can potentially cause more harm to the garden than good, consider pruning those suckers.

To learn more about specific pruning techniques, here is everything you need to know about pruning tomatoes.

If you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as easy tomatoes to growhybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

3 Ways to Support Tomatoes

Soon your tiny tomato plants will transform into gigantic bushes. Help them grow by giving them some extra support.

Tomato plants often bend, lean or even break as fruit matures. To help your plant from being damaged, get to know the tomato you’re planting. Indeterminate plants will continue to grow and will benefit from some support, while determinate tomatoes may be just fine on their own.

Use tomato cages, wood or metal stakes, or a trellis to give plants extra support. It’s really a matter of preference which one you choose. The most important thing is that you’re keeping plants off the ground to avoid pests, diseases and rot.

Put supports in your garden before or at the same time you plant tomatoes. Tomatoes will be easier to maintain, prune and harvest.

Stake

Choose 6’ to 8’ tall stakes made of wood, plastic or bamboo. Or, create your own from recycled materials.

  1. Pound stake firmly into the ground, about 12” deep, beside tomato plant.
  2. Tie stalk loosely to the stake using twine as soon as flowers appear. Stakes will bear the weight of plants as they grow, preventing branches from tipping and breaking.
  3. Continue tying plants to stakes as they grow.
  4. Water tomatoes regularly and fertilize with Tomato-tone every two weeks.

Cage

Cages can be purchased at your local garden center and they’re easy to remove at the end of the season and store for next year’s use. Choose metal, wooden or plastic tomato cages. Metal cages often hold up better and last longer, but are prone to rust.

  1. Choose 6’ cages for indeterminate and heirloom varieties.
  2. Plant tomatoes and center the cage over the center of the plant.
  3. Depending on the full grown size of your tomatoes, set cages about 4’ apart.
  4. Push the tomato cage legs into the dirt until the bottom rung is even with the base of the tomato plant.
  5. Water tomatoes regularly and fertilize with Tomato-tone every two weeks.

Trellis

Trellising your tomatoes offers them support and is a great way to maximize small spaces. They keep tomatoes off the ground and allow for easy pruning.

  1. Push two 6’ poles or wooden posts into the ground, about 10’ apart. Poles should not wobble.
  2. Tie wire or twine between posts, adding lines across the top, bottom and middle.
  3. Plant tomatoes along the length of trellis.
  4. Water tomatoes regularly and fertilize with Tomato-tone every two weeks.
  5. As plant grows, train stems by attaching stems to the trellis using twist ties, wires or twine.

Soon your garden will be filled with delicious ripe tomatoes! For more tips on growing tomatoes, check out our organic gardening guide!