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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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!