Archive for the ‘Heirloom Tomatoes’ Category

Tomatoes For a New Gardener

If you’re just starting out with your garden, you may want to know some good “beginner” tomatoes.  What are some tomato varieties that are easy to grow, good to eat and fun to watch develop?

Tip #1 for a New Tomato Garden

If you’ve never grown tomatoes before, I suggest growing no more than three plants your first season.  Why?

First, you want the best chance for your plants to grow and produce tomatoes.  This means that you’ll have to watch your plants and see how they react to your particular growing conditions.

If you put your plants out into your garden too soon, they might get killed by frost or stunted by chilly weather.  If you plant too late, you risk both the plants not pollinating well because it’s too hot, or your fruit not ripening fast enough before season end.

And it’s not just about knowing when to plant them, but also keeping an eye on them.  You’ll want to watch for insects or other critters, not to mention just watch and get familiar with how they grow.

So, your first planting season shouldn’t be more than three tomato plants; the next season, after you become familiar with the growing conditions, you can plant with abandon!

Which Tomatoes for a New Gardener?

I suggest three different varieties for your tomato garden; a determinate, a cherry and an heirloom.  These three will give you tomatoes both early on and all through the season.

Determinate Tomato in a ContainerDeterminate:  Determinate tomatoes tend to be smaller plants and bear fruit earlier.  Many don’t even need staking, which is a plus for the beginning home gardener.  Determinate tomatoes tend to be early-to-mid-season tomatoes, so they will be among the first of your homegrown tomatoes harvested.  In general, I’ve found the determinate tomatoes to be a bit more resistant to diseases.

SuperSweet 100 TomatoesCherry:  A cherry tomato is one of the very easiest to grow, and the plants usually very prolific.   Cherry tomatoes are small (usually less than 2 ounces) and are born in clusters…sometimes very large clusters of 10 or more tomatoes!  Because the plants are so prolific, there are usually tomatoes ready at any given time.  Great for salads and snacking.  The cherry tomato plants are normally indeterminate, so they continue producing their fruit for the entire season.

Brandywine Pink -- it has a week or so before it's ready to be picked.

Brandywine Pink — it has a week or so before it’s ready to be picked.

Heirloom:  Finally, I suggest an heirloom, because most taste absolutely divine!  Although there are some early-season varieties, the larger-fruited heirloom tomatoes tend to be late-season, so they are ready for harvest after the determinate and cherry tomatoes produce.  I like the beefsteak-style heirloom tomatoes for their truly tomato taste, and the fact that they make great tomato sandwiches!

So, those are the tomato types I suggest for the first-time tomato gardener.  Now on to the varieties you can plant!

Tomato Variety Suggestions

I’ll give you two different groups of three.  The first group should appeal to anyone; they are beautiful red tomatoes that are easy to grow.

The second group of three is for anyone who wants to get a little more adventurous.  Instead of red tomatoes, you’ll find these in three different colors!

Group #1:  Red Tomatoes

My three picks are: Celebrity, Supersweet 100 and Brandywine, and here’s why.

I have found Celebrity to be a tried-and-true addition to my garden.  The plants are easy to grow and it’s rare they need staking.  The tomatoes are medium-sized and quite good — much better than the grocery store tomatoes.  Beyond regular watering an a little fertilizer now and then, Celebrity produces without fuss.

Supersweet 100 has been a great perfomer for me — the plants sprout and grow quickly.  The cherry tomatoes are produced rampantly, once the plant has been established.  It’s hard to go wrong with this plant, and the cherry tomatoes are very sweet.  You will need to stake this plant, however.

Brandywine is a favorite of many a gardener (not to mention one of my favorites).  It’s known as one of the best-tasting of the heirloom varieties.  It’s reasonably resistant to diseases; just make sure it has plenty of air circulation around it.  A somewhat sprawly plant, it could use staking or a tomato cage.  The fruits are late season, and generally in the 1-pound range — definitely worth the wait!


Group #2: Tomatoes of Different Colors

For adventurous souls, here are my picks for different-colored tomatoes: Razzleberry, Jenny and Cherokee Purple. Determinate tomatoes are usually red, but Razzleberry is a pink determinate.  Another thing that’s different is that Razzleberry is a mid-season tomato, instead of early-season.  This means that although you’ll have to wait a bit longer for those fruits, they will be more succulent.   Razzleberry is just a fun plant to grow, with delicious, sweet fruits.  One caveat; you’ll very likely need to stake this plant (also rather unusual for a determinate).

Jenny is an orange cherry tomato, very small (less than an ouce), sweet and prolific.  Jenny sets fruits before Razzleberry, so you’ll be eating them sooner, not to mention throughout the entire season.  Jenny is indeterminate, as are most (if not all) cherry tomatoes, and the plants are prolific enough to need staking.  It’s a nice way to branch out into a cherry tomato of a different color.

My heirloom choice is Cherokee Purple.  Cherokee Purple is one of the more widely-adapted of the heirloom tomatoes, and pretty easy to grow no matter where you are.   A late-season producer, Cherokee Purple has medium to large fruits, with a heavenly tomato taste.  Now as to the purple.  never fear, the tomatoes are really a deep pink tinged with brown (much prettier than how it sounds).  No neon colors!   Altogether one of the nicest and easiest of the heirlooms to grow.


A Word to Florida Gardeners

Summers are brutal in Florida, and hard on the tomatoes; they just don’t pollinate or set fruits well in high temperatures.  So, I grow my main crops in two seasons — Spring and Fall.

For a Spring crop, you’ll want to plant seeds by the middle of February (end of January is better).  This way most of your tomatoes will be harvested before the temperatures get really hot.  Your cherry tomatoes may continue to produce fruits, though, into the summer heat.

For a Fall crop, plant seeds by the end of May; a bit earlier if you live in the inland North Florida and Panhandle area, where it gets cooler sooner.

I can and do plant crops for Summer and Winter, seeing as I have my garden in South Florida.  However, I plant the fewest tomatoes then.  While I may have a few dozen tomato plants in Spring and Fall, I may grow only 5 or 6 most summers and winters.  But for the beginning tomato gardener, I don’t recommend starting out with a Summer crop — the chance of tomato diseases is higher, due to the heat and humidity.

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Growing Tomatoes in Florida

Growing tomatoes in Florida, especially in South Florida, is something that I have a great deal of experience with.  So, for all you Florida gardeners, here are some tips for growing some luscious, vine-ripe tomatoes of your own!

(South Florida gardeners — here are some special tips for you.)

Seasons for Growing Tomatoes in Florida – Winter

Here in South Florida, you can grow tomatoes practically year-round…with some caveats.  One is that if you have ever had a frost during the winter, don’t grow a large tomato garden in winter, unless you are prepared to cover your tomato plants or you have them in containers and can bring them inside.

Here’s a sad but true story.  One year I planted a gorgeous tomato garden, with at least a dozen plants (probably closer to two dozen).  It had been a cool, but not cold, Winter, with sunny days.  Beautiful growing weather!

Alas, one night it was expected to get down to around 40 degrees.  I debated covering the plants, but figured they would be OK.  They probably would have been if the temperature had stayed around 40.  Unfortunately, they plunged to the low 30s, we got frost and my tomato plants died.  What made it worse was that they were bearing a wonderful crop at this point!  I was able to salvage some of the ripest (although still green) tomatoes, but lost most of the crop.

If you want to grow a Winter crop in South Florida, plant your seeds in September.  I like to plant heirloom tomato seeds in the winter, as well as at least one variety of cherry tomato like Supersweet 100 hybrid

Spring Tomatoes

Spring is great in Central and South Florida.  Generally mild with mostly sunny days, it’s a wonderful tomato-growing time.  North Florida can still get chilly, though, so plan accordingly if you live in the Panhandle or around Gainesville and north.

Spring is the end of the Florida dry season, so remember to water accordingly, as the sun is getting stronger each day.  Especially in South and interior Central Florida, it can get mighty hot in late Spring.

To harvest a Spring crop of vine-ripe tomatoes, start planting your seeds in December to late January.  I usually plant a mix of heirloom tomato seeds, as well as hybrids.

Growing Tomatoes in Summer in Florida

For Florida in general, Summer can be brutal on your tomato plants.  Nor only is the sun exceedingly strong, but it’s hot and humid — excellent conditions for mildew and gray spot to develop.  I tend to grow more disease-resistant hybrids in the summer, like Celebrity

I also tend to grow tomatoes in containers, in dappled/light shade in the summertime.  Containers because I can move them inside if really bad weather approaches (like tropical storms), and dappled shade because the mid-day sun just seems too much for the plants.  I grow the fewest tomato plants in Summer here in South Florida.

Another problem you may run into in South and Central Florida is plants growing too fast and developing lots of cracks.  So the tomato varieties I grow are generally cherry- to medium-sized.

For Summer tomatoes, I plant sometime in April.

Tomato Garden in Fall

Fall can be a nice time of year to grow tomatoes, at least in South Florida.  If you live in North Florida and the Panhandle, you’ll want your main crop in by mid  to late October.  Central and South Florida can extend that a bit into November.

Fall’s main issue is how cold it gets how fast.  Here in South Florida, we can get nighttime lows in the low 40s as early as November.  I know this year, it’s been into the 20’s and 30’s in North Florida by late November — too cold for warmth-loving tomatoes.  So the further north in Florida you live, the more you’ll want to consider growing your tomatoes in containers that you can bring inside when you get really cold snaps.

For Fall, I like some of the Tumbling Tom and a bush type like Better Bush hybrid tomato

For a fall crop, I plant around mid-July.

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Heirloom Tomato Seeds

Heirloom tomato seeds aren’t any more difficult to plant than hybrid tomato seeds.  The trick is finding the seeds you want to grow — and there is quite a variety!

But before I talk more about the seeds, let’s talk a little about what makes an heirloom tomato an heirloom.

Brandywine Pink tomato, still quite aways from being ready to pick - but it's big!

Brandywine Pink tomato, still quite aways from being ready to pick – but it’s big!

About Heirloom Tomatoes

So what exactly is an heirloom tomato — what makes it different than “regular” tomatoes?

First of all, heirlooms are produced natually from seeds.  In other words, if you save seeds from an heirloom, the resulting plants will be just like the parent.  Not so with a hybrid tomato, because you’ll never know what you’ll get!  This is because a hybrid is a cross between two varieties, neither of which may be great on their own (but wonderful together).

So that’s one; an heirloom produces plants like itself.  The next is how long the plant has been producing tomatoes; that is, how many generations have been produced with consistent results.  I’ve heard quite a few different numbers — 100 and 50 seem to be the two that pop up the most.  Some people use the year 1945 as the cutoff; if the tomato variety was growing in 1945 with consistent fruit results, the plant can be considered an heirloom.

One other thing about heirloom tomatoes is their taste!  In general, the heirlooms produce a sweet, meaty tomato.  Many of the heirloom varieties produce big fruits — beefsteak or larger.  If you love tomato sandwiches, you’ll love these tomatoes.

There is a downside, though.  Heirloom tomatoes are pretty strong growers, but they are not necessarily disease-resistant.  So especially if you live in a hot and humid climate, you need to keep a closer eye on your heirlooms.  (But it is worth it!)

Heirlooms generally produce, on average,  fewer tomatoes per plant than hybrids.  If your household is small, that’s not always a bad thing, so you’re not drowning in too many tomatoes at once!

Heirloom Tomato Varieties

There are tons of varieties or heirlooms out there, and I’ve tried many of them in my day.  But I keep coming back to a few that are the easiest for me to grow, but that also have fun results!  I like red tomatoes for sure, but I also get a big kick out of the purple and the striped tomatoes.  That being said, here are a few of my favorite heirloom tomato seeds.

Brandywine

Brandywine always seems to be on the list whenever I do my seed planting.  I love the big fruits and the juicy meat of this heirloom tomato.  The seeds germinate fairly quickly and transplant easily.  I do have to keep my eye out for blight here in the south, though.  Some of that can be circumvented by putting a protective layer of mulch over the soil.  Whenever my friends ask for suggestions on tomato varieties, Brandywine is always on the list.  This is an indeterminate plant that needs staking and/or caging and bears fruit in about 80 to 90 days.

There are four main strains of Brandywine, and they are:

  • Brandywine Pink:  This is probably the one people think about when they hear “Brandywine”.  The fruits are big, pink, juicy and wonderful!  The plants are big, with potato leaves and are generally pretty healthy/  The down side is that this strain has the lowest yield of all the Brandywines, and especially has a problem setting fruits in hot weather.
  • Brandywine Red:  This is really the original strain that was introduced in the late 1800’s.  It has regular leaves, and a nice growth habit.  It’s the most productive of all the Brandywines, but also has the smallest fruit — if you consider a 12 ounce tomato small!
  • Brandyine Red OTV:  This was a accidental cross between Brandywine Yellow and an unknown red tomato.  It also has red fruits, but has potato leaves.  The tomatoes are a little bigger than Brandywine Red (above), but the yield is slightly less (but still good).
  • Yellow Brandywine:  The last of the main strains of this wonderful heirloom tomato,  It has the potato leaves and vigorous growth habit off the others, but is yellow.  This one is also somewhat of a shy bearer of tomatoes, but when they do show up, they are usually big and absolutely delicious!

Heirloom Tomato BlossomsCherokee Purple

This is a fun tomato because it’s purple!  OK, it’s not the kind of bright purple you might be imagining; it’s more of a dusky violet.  The name Cherokee Purple comes about because it’s believed to have originated among the Cherokee people, and is over 120 years old.  These are big tomatoes, which can weight a pound or more.  Sweet and meaty, they are great for salads and sandwiches.  But the purple does take a little getting used to, especially when you serve it to guests!  Cherokee Purple is an indeterminate tomato that bears fruit in about 80 days and requires staking.

A Tomato Named Pineapple

I plant these heirloom tomato seeds just about every time because my husband David loves them so much.  He claims that Pineapple makes one of the very best tomato sandwiches, and they sure are pretty.  Why?  Because Pineapple is a yellow-and-red striped tomato!  They are absolutely gorgeous to look at, and deliciously sweet to taste.  Pineapple is also a great way to introduce a tomato of a different color to people who have never eaten anything but a red tomato.  This tomato is indeterminate, needs staking and is late-season, bearing fruit 85 to 95 days out, so it’s best grown in a warmer climate.

Costoluto Genovese

If you regularly use tomato sauce, you really need to consider growing this heirloom tomato.  Once you make sauce from Costoluto Genovese, you won’t want to go back to store-bought.  Not into sauces?  You can eat this tomato fresh, too (although personally I prefer something like Cherokee Purple).  This variety is among the smaller of the heirloom tomatoes, but is still nice-sized.

One thing, Constoluto Genovese really likes warm weather, moreso than a lot of tomatoes, so it’s not great for cooler climates.  Another indeterminate, this heirloom tomato needs staking and produces fruit at around 78 days.

Big Rainbow

The last of the heirloom tomato seeds I’ll talk about today is one that bears monster fruits — Big Rainbow.  It’s also another of the striped tomato colors, with gold and red, so it’s very pretty to look at.  Not to mention great to eat!  This heirloom tomato can get fruits up to 2 pounds in size!  Naturally that’s with optimum growing conditions, but 1+ pounds tomatoes can be expected on average.  This tomato is also exceptional in that it’s one of the most disease-resistant of the heirlooms!  (Reason enough to grow it.)  Big Rainbow is an indeterminate, requires strong staking (possibly multiple stakes).  It bears fruit roughly 90 days out.

Box Car Willie

Do you just want a nice, tomato — not anything huge or pink or striped or anything, but with great old-fashioned taste?  Then you will want to think about trying Box Car Willie.  This is a red tomato has a great tomato taste, and is quite prolific in bearing tomatoes — it can put the hybrids to shame.  The fruits are nice-sized, around 12 ounces, and the plant has regular-leaf foliage.  It’s an indeterminate and starts producing ripe fruits at around 80 days after transplant.

So there you go; some wonderful heirloom tomato seeds for you to consider planting.  For additional information on planting, check out the post on planting a tomato garden. Not to mention how to germinate tomato seeds!

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