An Essay on My Tomatoes: To Be Or Not To Be Heirloom; Quite Nice Either Way

Soon I'll be updating this page regularly. :-)

Last year, the surge for planting heirloom tomatoes reached a great height. No one was interested in why I always plant Rutgers, Early Girl, and Super Sweet 100 along with a few heirloom varieties each year, they only wanted to know if they were "heirloom." I realized that for some people, "heirloom" was a type of tomato; they did not understand what the word meant at all, other than perhaps "old-fashioned and therefore better."

First let me say as an aside, I wish people would start leading a charge on heirloom apples, because I miss some of the varieties of childhood. 

But anyway. "heirloom" isn't a tomato variety. There are great reasons to grow both types of varieties. Rutgers tomatoes were developed for farmers to sell to stores. They are a solid predictable producer, utterly reliable and good for general use. You can get heirloom Rutgers seeds, but they are actually a derivative of the original variety, which is no longer produced commercially. I love Early Girls because produce early and they produce a lot. Super Sweet 100s, same thing, only in cherry tomato size. 

Some people love Big Boys or Big Berthas or Beefsteak varieties. They've all developed over the years to be enjoyed in different ways. (As are peppers, and squashes, eggplants, onions, beans, etc.) Some are higher in acidity than others. 

Each year I grow German Johnson because I love big pink tomatoes, and they are low in acid for a couple family members who benefit from that. Each year I grow some kind of yellow tomato, and I also choose something I never tried before, just to see how it turns out. The Black Krims last year were amazing, and the Yellow Brandywines were like, just beautiful on their seven foot plant, and so tasty, my god. This is an example of a problem with heirlooms; the Yellow Brandywine plant was developed to be pretty tough; the Black Krim was not. Both tasted so fantastic. But the Black Krim was not really hardy enough for what last season threw at it. 

This year for fun I have a Mr. Stripey and a Cherokee Purple. I'm looking forward to seeing how they do with the others. The yellow pear tomato plants I grew from seed are a bit stunted, but I intend to coax them along and see what I get. If all else fails, I'll hunt one down at a fancy nursery, just to see what it will give me.

Some of these are heirlooms, the others are hybrids. I can save and use the heirloom seeds, and they won't have been cross-pollinated by the hybrids. But they are all very different from each other. Some are determinate; they crop all at once, and some are indeterminate, growing and producing for weeks. 

If you say, "Oh, I'm growing heirlooms" but don't know what you have, well, good luck to you. Sprinkle coffee grounds and eggshells around the base. Remove early lower branches as they touch the ground. Mulch after about six weeks, but be careful of which you use, don't use pine. Plant stinky French marigolds nearby to fight bugs, and basil to do the same plus improve flavor. (Do you know how many varieties of basil there are? And how they got that way? Plant cultivation is super interesting.) You might have a great strong plant that produces well, and if so, it will taste super, but you might also have one that can't handle the bugs in your yard or inconsistent weather, or is very finicky about producing. 

Here's some material for you to read. 

Discovery May Lead to New Tomato Varieties With Vintage Flavor and Quality

What About the Rutgers Tomato?

"Heirlooms are the tomato equivalent of the pug..." 



Summer days, drifting away...


What am I going to do with all this Swiss Chard? No one eats it but me!

12 - 1 (1)

These tomatoes (sorry it's unclear) were all picked green two weeks ago, and sat on this table ripening. 


A few are left in this bowl, but I cut up most of them to roast for soup today, along with a few peppers that were growing soft. I will talk about roast vegetable recipes on the cooking page, today or tomorrow.




Here are more tomatoes I picked last night in advance of the first frost. They will mostly all ripen here over the next couple of weeks.


And I picked the last of the leeks. There was too much clay where they grew; even though they'll have a new location next year, that area needs more amending before I grow something else there. 

Growing Tomatoes

From now on, I'll do my gardening talk here instead of the main page, linked above. I also have a lot of garden photos at Flickr, and the link for that is in the right column.

These are some tomatoes I picked yesterday. Tomatoes
There are a few Rutgers, Early Girls, Tiny Toms, one Yellow Brandywine, and one German Johnson. These last two varieties are "heirlooms," which I know excites you. I also grew another heirloom variety this year; Black Krims. 

Here's the thing about the heirlooms. They aren't all the same, and part of what makes them "superior" also causes them to have drawbacks. So don't go assuming that any tomato that isn't heirloom won't be any good at all. I love the flavor of the Black Krims, but they're a bit more susceptible to little creatures. The German Johnsons are huge, and pink. They take much longer to ripen, and you have to have a great deal of support for them. If you love them, you gotta have two plants, as they won't yield as much as some others. The Yellow Brandywine is a huge beautiful plant, but also has a lower yield than some others. 

My Early Girl hybrid plant produced at least 200 very tasty tomatoes this year, even through those long extremely hot weeks of no rain. They started ripening in late June, and they are still coming, though they've slowed down finally, and will be finished soon. 

The Rutgers tomatoes ripen starting in mid-July. It isn't quite as prolific a plant or quite as juicy as the Early Girl, but the texture is good for all different kinds of uses, and good for preserving. 

If you have the space, it makes sense to grow at least two or three different varieties of tomatoes, along with basil and marigolds to help fight pests. If you have slugs in your garden, add nasturtiums. Plan a three year rotation, if possible. You can plant green beans in the same space the following year, for example, to add nitrogen to the soil. When the green beans are done producing, till the plant straight back into the ground. Little tricks like these will ensure you have a good crop even when the weather is so obnoxious, like it was for most of us this summer.