If you have never tried an heirloom tomato – you need to put it on your bucket list!

Most all commercial varieties of tomatoes, and for that matter, vegetable plants in general – are selected and grown for their ability to look good at the local supermarket, and travel well getting there.

A Cherokee Purple Tomato on the vine.
A Cherokee Purple Tomato on the vine.

They are certainly not selected for their taste!

Sadly, many of the best tasting varieties of tomatoes have been weaned out of the mainstream in the last 50 years – simply because they were not pretty enough to display at the market – or they didn’t have a long shelf life.  However, thanks in part to a few dedicated individuals and seed companies and their efforts to save these heritage varieties – flavor is coming back in bunches!

If you have ever savored a thick juicy slice of a Brandywine tomato – or tasted the full-bodied flesh of a Purple Cherokee –  you know exactly what I am talking about.  Heirlooms ooze with flavor!  In fact – its not fair to even attempt to compare them to a regular “supermarket” tomato.

The beautiful meaty flesh of a Brandywine tomato
The beautiful and tasty flesh of a sweet Brandywine tomato

The best part of all – you can save the seeds from year to year.  Heirloom tomatoes are old-time open-pollinated and stabilized varieties that can be saved and planted to give great tasting tomatoes every year.

Seed companies such as Baker Creek Seeds, Johnnies, Patriot Seed Supply, and the Sustainable Seed Company, along with many others now specialize in all types of heirloom vegetable seeds – making it easy to try your hand at growing an almost infinite variety of tasty tomatoes.

When purchasing, keep in mind that there are basically two types of tomatoes – determinate and indeterminate.

The Amish Paste Tomato is an excellent choice for those wanting to make sauce, salsa or ketchup.
The Amish Paste Tomato is an excellent choice for those wanting to make sauce, salsa or ketchup.

Determinate varieties are more of a bush style plant – and have most all of their fruit ripen over a two to three week period. They are great for small gardens and containers – and for those who want to can or process a lot of tomatoes at once.

Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, will grow and keep on producing tomatoes until killed by frost. They need to have good staking support in the garden – as some can grow upwards of 10 feet – although 5 to 6′ is more the norm (See: making your own tomato supports). I like them because they continue giving all season long.

Heirloom tomatoes make a great base for home made pasta sauce!
Heirloom tomatoes make a great base for home made pasta or pizza sauce!

So with that said – here are six of our favorites (all indeterminate). Rest assured – there are hundreds more out  – and that is why every year we try a few more to add to our favorite list!

So make sure to plant a few heirlooms in your garden this year and provide an explosion of taste to everyone in your family!

Our Favorite Heirloom Varieties:

Black cherry tomatoes are the perfect salad tomato and full of flavor
Black cherry tomatoes are the perfect salad tomato and full of flavor

Amish Paste :  This is the heirloom variety of what most know as a “Roma” style of tomato.  Thick walled and great for making sauces and ketchup – this is a perfect tomato for canners!  They are also great for salads because they stay nice and firm when sliced.

Black Cherry :  If you like cherry tomatoes – you will love this black cherry heirloom variety.  They produce tons of small round black and reddish fruit that are perfect for salads, salsa – or just eating one after another!  They have a super-sweet rich flavor that can’t even be compared to those bright red cherry tomatoes you find in plastic boxes at the grocery store. They keep on growing and producing til frost – so be prepared to have plenty on hand!

The Copia Tomato is one of our favorites. It has beautiful striping to go with great flavor. We found these at Baker Creek Seed Co.
The Copia Tomato is one of our favorites. It has beautiful striping to go with great flavor. We found these at Baker Creek Seed Co.

Copia Tomato:  This one is so unique and so good!  Large plants grow to produce yellow and red striped tomatoes that are almost neon in color. They are perfect for slicing and eating or to add tons of flavor and color to salads.  They are also a great conversation starter!  I have only found this one at Baker Creek Seeds.

Cherokee Purple:  This is my personal favorite. It produces large, beefy tomatoes that have a dark deep red to purplish hue. When sliced open – they are meaty and really make the perfect tomato sandwich!

It is said to have been grown and handed down from the Cherokee tribe – hence the name. This one can easily grow 6 to 8 feet tall.

Brandywine: This is a favorite among so many gardeners – and for great reason – the flavor is amazing! It is probably the most widely known and grown variety of heirloom tomatoes. These grow very large and dense, and we are always surprised by the weight of the tomatoes.

Our raised row garden.
You will definitely need to stake up heirloom tomatoes like Brandywine and Cherokee Purple – they can easily take over a garden if left to roam.

Black Krim :  Another “Out of this World” tasting tomato.  Just like the name implies – it becomes a dark blackish-purple when ripe.  It originates from Russia, and has really become a favorite among heirloom tomato lovers. A word of caution – be prepared to support this one – it grows large and will take up some space!

There you have it – our favorites! If you would like to receive our DIY & Gardening  Tips every Tuesday – be sure to sign up to follow the blog via email in the right hand column, “like” us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Happy Gardening!  Jim and Mary

21 thoughts on “Growing Heirloom Tomatoes – Experience REAL Flavor!

  • March 17, 2014 at 11:48 pm
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    I purchased some heirloom tomato seeds from http://www.victoryseeds.com (I can’t believe how many varieties are out there!!) First time planting heirloom seeds and they say not to direct sow but to start indoors in sterile potting mix….I didn’t realize there was even such an option as sterile potting mix, so plan on visiting Home Depot this weekend.

  • March 16, 2014 at 12:50 pm
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    is their somewhere to order or buy seeds or seedlings from? I am in Missouri I’d love to start growing some of these

    • March 17, 2014 at 11:50 pm
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      I purchased mine at victoryseeds.com. Tons of options and they are shipping quickly this time of year too. 🙂 Would love to see pictures of your tomatoes this year!

      • April 16, 2014 at 5:11 pm
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        Annie we should all put up pics of our plants this season. I too purchased from Victory and was very happy with the germination rate. I have the Schiavano Paste as well as the black cherry tomatoes. Which did you purchase

        • April 21, 2014 at 4:00 am
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          I purchased Rutgers Tomato seeds as well as a new herb I wasn’t familiar with called Summer Savory. Seedlings are looking good so far! I’m just quite a novice at growing from seed….so hopefully at least some make it lol. 🙂

  • March 12, 2014 at 6:49 pm
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    I am in N Texas, north of Dallas, and want to grow one or two very flavorful heirloom tomatoes, maybe a salad cherry, and a big slicer. We are very hot, very dry in summer, in severe drought. When do I plant? Which two names for zone 7b? I can’t go by NE favs. Must plant in ground now I think, too late to start indoors and no equipment (lights etc). TY 4 your suggestions, must order asap! vk

    • March 20, 2014 at 9:39 am
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      I spent 25 years in the Dallas area and growing tomatoes there can be a challenge. For the first time tomato grower I would grow in a container. You can pick up a 10+ gallon container at a local nursery (they always have extras) for not a lot of money. Wash it out VERY well and rinse with a 50/50 solution of bleach. I’m not a big fan of MiracleGro potting mix because they use synthetic fertilizer, but you should be able to find something that doesn’t have that in it. You might even find a compost blend from the nursery.

      Start your plants NOW. You can pick up a covered seed starting tray at Home Depot or Lowes. Again, for the first time grower, I would “pre-sprout” the seeds using a damp paper towel and a zip lock bag. Place the bag in a warm place out of direct sun and the seeds should germinate within a few days. Carefully move the seeds to your covered tray, plant about 1/2″ deep, mist lightly so the soil is damp and place in a bright location, out of direct sun. There are a number of websites with information on how to grow seedlings and harden them off before planting outside. You want to plant your seedlings as deep as possible since the plant will root all along the stalk that is underground

      You want to locate your tomatoes in an area that gets 6+ hours of sun per day. Shade from afternoon sun is a plus. Heirloom tomatoes will need support since they are mostly indeterminate (don’t stop growing) so again check out all the ways to support your plants. Cages are common as are stakes.

      Don’t overwater your tomatoes! Tomatoes were originally desert plants so they can tolerate some dry time but too much water will kill them. The water usage will increase as the plant gets larger and as temperatures rise. Go for deep root watering less frequently as opposed to shallow watering.

      Pinch off the suckers as the plant grows. Suckers are shoots that sprout between a leaf and the main part of the plant. They will eventually come up and make fruit, but you want no more than 4 fruiting limbs. Once you are familiar with growing tomatoes you can experiment rooting suckers, which is what I do. You can even cut a pencil size sucker off of a friends tomatoes and “clone” their tomato plants.

      As far as fertilizer I manufacture Mighty Grow Organic fertilizer, so I’m a little partial to that one, but any of the good quality organic products available from some of the local garden centers will work. If you can find worm castings you can mix that with your soil and make a tea to water your plants and fertilize at the same time.

      That’s pretty much it. Don’t over “love” your plants, but don’t neglect them either.

      If anyone wants more information about my fertilizer, please visit my website at http://www.mightygrow.com or find my personal group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/133354663453666/

    • April 16, 2014 at 5:16 pm
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      I am trying something out this year that might help you out in your climate. Goggle Global Bucket they also have a bunch of youtube video’s. Their system of using atmospheric preasure to equalize a bunch of self watering buckets looks amazing.

  • March 12, 2014 at 10:37 am
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    I agree. Heirloom tomatoes are the best and I have grown some in the past. This is a little off the subject, but do you have problems with deer and rabbits in your garden?

    • March 12, 2014 at 10:53 am
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      At the risk of jinxing ourselves – we really don’t. :We do have deer come through quite a bit – in fact – we do have to protect our young fruit trees in the winter from them – but they left our garden alone for the most part. I have never laid eyes on a rabbit at the farm – and always chocked it up to coyote and dogs we have around and near us.

    • March 13, 2014 at 10:57 am
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      I am in the Forth Worth area and have had good luck with Brandywines. They are a big slicer and one of my favorites.

  • March 11, 2014 at 6:35 pm
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    I also grow heirloom tomatoes – Delicious one of the original beefsteak tomatoes – excellent taste, firm and large perfect chilled sliced with mozzarella/basil/olive oil/balsamic vinegar! I make sauce with Opalka (hard to find) 1900 Poland very few seeds, is extremely meaty and loaded with rich sweet flavor incredible sauce/paste tomato mixed with San Marzano Italian paste tomato considered by many to be the world’s best – meaty, few seeds sweet/acid! General tomato for eating/canning whole Rutgers and Early Girl (heirloom early hybrid). And, if you’ve not tried Matt’s Wild cherry tomato (wild from Mexico – Johnny’s) – small, deep red, tender, smooth texture, and sweet, full flavor with high sugar content perfect for salsa to balance hot peppers – addictive in the garden eaten directly off vine. And, for just fun try Jelly Bean red/yellow grape tomato. I grow nearly all heirloom vegetables and only pick up an occasional hybrid. I agree with you. EVERYONE ought to grow at least one heirloom variety and they will be hooked for life!!!

    • March 12, 2014 at 7:45 am
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      We will have to try Matts and the Jelly Bean – they sound delicious! We do the Rutgers as well for canning!

  • March 11, 2014 at 6:02 pm
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    Where did you get those cool Better Homes and Gardens Canning Jars? I checked their site and couldn’t fine them.

    • March 12, 2014 at 7:37 am
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      Lori – we actually picked them up a few years back on clearance at a Wal-Mart – and we have never been able to find any more. I think they may have stopped making them

  • March 11, 2014 at 4:05 pm
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    I will be growing Black Cherry Tomatoes this yr. The seedlngs are up under my grow light cabinet (that my hubby made for me using your plans)….Can’t wait…

    • March 12, 2014 at 7:38 am
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      That is great! I am so ready for tomatoes after our winter!

  • March 11, 2014 at 12:52 pm
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    I purchased Cherokee Purple seeds from Seed Savers this year, so I’m excited to see your good review and height warning (may need a step ladder?!). My husband (who has never tried an off-the-vine tomato) is convinced he doesn’t much care for tomatoes. I can’t wait to see what he thinks after trying one of these!

    • March 12, 2014 at 7:46 am
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      You will have to let us know if has become a convert after tasting!

  • March 11, 2014 at 12:49 pm
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    I had already purchased Cherokee Purples this year from Seed Savers – I’m so glad to see the warning about their height (may need a step ladder?!) and the good reviews about their flavor and meatiness. Love your blog!

  • March 11, 2014 at 11:50 am
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    WOW If I hadn’t seen the first words of your post, I wouldn’t have known those were tomatoes in the picture. What rich colors. I definitely think you need to start holding Tomato Tastings – wouldn’t that be a tasty treat.

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