By Sommer Cartier, for Let’s Talk Plants! July 2022.
Tips For Growing Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes are annual vegetable plants that have not been crossbred or hybridized for at least 40 years. These plants are open pollinators which means their seeds will produce identical offspring to the parent plant year after year. Each heirloom variety is genetically unique. It has inherited attributes that have taken previous plants years to acquire, such as resistance to pests, diseases, and adaptation to growing conditions and climate. For this reason, along with their sought-after texture and flavor, heirloom tomatoes have become increasingly popular among gardeners.
While there are lots of benefits to cultivating heirloom tomatoes it’s important to know that many varieties require a little more care than their standard hybrid counterparts. Below are a few helpful tips on how to maximize yield and help you select the right tomato.
Prune Indeterminate Heirloom Tomatoes Regularly
There are many benefits to pruning indeterminate heirloom tomatoes.
· Keeps the plant to a manageable size.
· Allows air to circulate throughout the plant, making it less susceptible to mold, disease and pests.
· Allows sunlight to reach the whole plant, maximizing photosynthesis
Heirloom tomatoes are often vigorous indeterminate growers. As they grow, they put out shoots called suckers. These suckers can be found in the v space where the stem and the branch meet. In order to maintain a more manageable sized plant, and redirect energy to the fruit, these suckers should be removed.
Suckers that are two inches or less can be pinched off using your fingers. Anything larger should be removed with a clean pair of sheers, disinfecting them as you move between plants to prevent the spread of diseases. Additionally, branches that are low hanging or touching the ground should be pulled up and supported or removed completely.
Water Evenly and Consistently
Keep your heirloom tomatoes well–watered, especially during the fruit setting stage. Make sure to water slowly and consistently, allowing sufficient time for the soil to absorb the moisture. If plants are subjected to frequent fluctuations in moisture levels, moist to dry for example, the fruit becomes more susceptible to cracking and can develop blossom end rot. If given more water than needed, the fruit can become diluted in flavor.
Water Plants in the a.m. and Keep Leaves Dry
Water heirloom tomatoes in the morning to avoid the risk of burning the plants. When watering, water the soil at the base of the plant and avoid splashing the leaves. When leaves get wet, the water can allow spores and bacterial cells to penetrate the plant and cause infection. Since heirloom tomatoes are more prone to these types of infections, it’s best to keep the leaves dry whenever possible.
Selecting an Heirloom Tomato - Popular Varieties
Brandywine Tomato -
This is one of the most popular varieties of heirloom tomatoes due to its intense flavor. Their fruit is juicy, meaty and less acidic, making this tomato great on sandwiches, burgers or in a salads.
Black Cherry Tomato -
These little tomatoes look just like they sound, little black cherries. Their plants are rigorous producers. They start producing in early spring, with their first tomato ripening in as little as 65 days. Black cherry tomatoes are known to be one of the best-tasting cherry tomatoes with their rich and complex flavor. They’re ideal for eating fresh, either alone or tossed in a salad. They hold up well under heat, making them great for roasting or grilling on a veggie skewer.
Beam’s Yellow Pear Tomato -
This bright yellow, flavorful tomato also looks just like it sounds –a small yellow pear. This heirloom variety produces juicy medium-sized cherry tomatoes that are roughly 1-1/2 inches in length. Their unique shape and bright yellow hue bring an artistic flare to salads but also works well in sauces and canning due to its strong tomato flavor.
Golden Jubilee Tomato -
These meaty tomatoes are low in acid, mild in flavor, and have a thick-walled interior making them great for slicing and dicing. They are great in any recipe that includes chunks of tomato such as bruschetta, salsa and pasta. Due to their low acidity, Golden Jubilee heirloom tomatoes are a great options for pasta sauces as well.
Green Zebra Tomato -
These bright little green tomatoes provide a nice pop of color and are slightly sweet yet tart in flavor. Their skin is smooth but taut with a light green base and vertical striping. Their uniquely tart flavor makes these tomatoes a great option for frying, sautéing canning or even pickling.
Now that you are equipped with some tips for growing a successful crop of heirloom tomatoes, you are one step closer to enjoying a fresh and colorful heirloom tomato salad, picked straight from your backyard garden. By implementing these practices in your garden this summer, you'll soon be growing enough beautiful and colorful heirloom tomatoes to enjoy yourself and share with your family and neighbors.