Choosing Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom or heritage tomatoes are all the rage these days. These old fashioned varieties come in all sizes, shapes and colors. The term heirloom is used for tomato cultivars that are open pollinated and are 40 years old or more. There are hundreds of varieties available today so choosing the best varieties, those that taste best and grow best in your area can be a challenge.
The downside to heirlooms is they are not a disease tolerant as the modern day hybrids and they are not as productive. But if you have the space, they are well worth the effort.
Different color tomatoes have different taste qualities, so that’s one way to start the selection search. Green tomatoes tend to have a bit of tang to them. And yes they are green when ripe, but usually develop slightly yellow or yellowish pink shoulders. Purple tomatoes are said to have a complex flavor, while yellow, which are lower in acid are more mild.
Another method of choosing tomato cultivars is selecting tomatoes that were developed in areas with similar weather conditions as yours. Tomatoes developed to grow in the heat of the South may not do as well or taste as good as those that originated in the North, if you are a cold weather gardener. Many tomato catalogs give the plant origins of the seeds they sell or designate whether the seeds do best in hot or cold climates.
Every year I pick a cultivar or two I have never grown, always on the search for the “best of the best.” Last year, here in Michigan we experience wet cold weather all season and my entire tomato crop, with the exception of Matt’s Wild Cherry, tasted terrible. This season I am planning to “tent” my tomatoes if we have excessive rain. Stay tuned.
Over the years I have tried a number of heirlooms and some have become staples in my garden.
Last year I grew Matt’s wild cherry, a current size heirloom tomato with incredible flavor. It’s a great way to get kids to eat tomatoes, as they love picking these tiny morsels off the vines and popping them in their mouths.
Bonnie Best tomato plants can be found in garden centers. Black from Tula and Evergreen are usually have to be grown from seed. Google their names for seed sources.