I freely admit the first time my wife had me try heirloom tomatoes I was suspicious because none of them were that perfect red color I'd grown up eating. The purples, greens, and inconsistent reds and oranges just didn't look like what my brain expected from a tomato. After sampling several different varieties, I'm now hooked on heirloom tomatoes as a great alternative to many of the choices that look "normal". Growing them at home means I don't have to pay the high prices heirloom varieties have come to command at both farmers markets and stores like Whole Foods. As the fruit ripens, I'll share some great recipes for heirloom tomatoes.
This year I'm planting 5 specific varieties of heirloom tomato, focusing on shorter growing season heirlooms from Russia along with a couple of North American favorites. On the list of this year's heirlooms:
Green Zebra - an heirloom variety that found its way to the Seed Saver catalog via Washington State farmer Tom Wager.
Japanese Trifele Black - The name is misleading as these are actually a Russian tomato.
Black Prince A tomato variety originally from Irkutsk in Siberia.
Cherokee Purple - a North American pre-1890's variety passed down from Cherokee Indians.
Paul Robeson - another Siberian varietal known for a unique flavor with a smokiness not typically found in other tomatoes.
Planting heirloom tomatoes is very similar to the traditional varieties specifically cultivated for backyard gardens. Because heirloom varieties tend to be less disease resistant and more susceptible to the cold, I opted for pre-hardened plants from a local grower. I'm planting them in 15 gallon pots specially to show that you don't need a giant garden in order to grow heirloom tomatoes. Each pot is first filled 1/3 full with organic compost.
Next the plant is seated deep in the pot, so that most of the existing stem is covered with soil. Tomato plants send out roots from any portion of the stem that is submerged in soil, which provides both a stronger base for the plant and a larger root system for absorbing nutrients from the soil.
Be sure to pinch the leaves that will be submerged from the stem so that the plant isn't trying to provide nutrients for leaves that will ultimately die back.
Make sure your plants are in an area that gets a good southern exposure, whether you plant in a garden or in pots as shown here. I'll post additional photos in the coming weeks as the plants progress.