A Mini Guide to Heirloom Tomatoes

GardeningGrowing

Heirloom tomatoes are growing in popularity due to their unique flavors, colors, and shapes. Seeds are passed down through generations to preserve these distinctive fruits. Consider planting Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, and Black Krims. Remember, all heirlooms need generous amounts of sunlight, fertilizer, water, and warmth.

Have you heard of heirloom tomatoes? Found in small sections of grocery stores, at farmers market stands, and in trendy Instagram posts, these unusual fruits are earning a name for themselves and gaining quite a reputation. But what makes them “heirloom?” Why are they popular? And should you hop on the heirloom tomato train, too? 

What are heirloom tomatoes?

What makes a tomato an “heirloom?” It is not the tomato itself, but the seeds, that solicit the designation. Farmers take seeds from tomato plants that are the most successful and produce the best fruits. They save the seeds for the next season. Seeds are passed on from season to season to preserve great characteristics like juiciness, flavor, size, and shape.

The exceptional quality and often unusual appearance of heirloom tomatoes come from the curated traits passed down through generations of plants and farmers. Heirlooms are drastically different from run-of-the-mill grocery store tomatoes which are genetically manipulated to be red, round, and thick-skinned but often taste watery and flavorless.

Which variety is best?

Another reason people love heirloom tomatoes is the uniqueness of each variety. Heirlooms come in colors from yellow to green to purple, and each has its own distinctive and complex flavor profile. Interested in growing some of your own? Start with a few of the most popular heirloom tomato varieties.

Brandywine

Brandywine is a favorite of all gardeners. This tomato has beautiful ruffled edges, a red and pink hue, and a complex flavor: sweet, tangy, spicy, and savory, all at once.

Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple tomatoes are sweet and rich and display a mesmerizing crimson interior when cut open. 

Black Krim

These are dark beauties, reddish-purple with greens and browns on top. They have a unique and robust flavor that is sweet with just enough acidity.

Dwarf Emerald Giant

If you are short on space, this is a perfect choice! These compact plants can be grown in a large pot or 5-gallon bucket.

Tips for Cultivating

Heirloom tomatoes want plenty of water, sunlight, fertilizer, and warmth.

  • Make sure your tomatoes are well-watered to encourage deep roots and optimum fruit development.
  • Heirloom tomatoes need direct sunlight all day. Plant your tomato garden where the house or trees won’t shade it.
  • To successfully bloom and produce fruit, heirloom tomatoes require regular fertilizing. We recommend organic, but synthetic fertilizers will do the job, too.
  • If your tomatoes are potted, regularly check to see if the roots are reaching the drainage holes. You do not want root-bound plants; re-pot often and use high-quality potting soil.
  • Wait for warm temperatures before you plant your heirloom tomatoes. Overnight temperatures should not be dropping below 60 degrees Fahrenheit once you put your plants in.

How to Enjoy

You will be blown away by the flavors of these tomatoes. Enjoy them in ways that showcase their uniqueness. Include generous slices or chunks in a simple arugula salad with a creamy, salty cheese like goat or feta. Sprinkle thick slices with salt and pepper and serve as an appetizer or side dish. Or make yourself a Southern-style tomato sandwich: place a hefty slice or two between two pieces of toasted bread slathered with mayonnaise.

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