Best Home Garden Tomatoes: Granny Cantrell German beefsteak
A true heirloom by any definition
Heirloom means that the variety is at least 40-50 years old. Some say an heirloom is a tomato that has been preserved and kept true in a particular region. Others believe heirlooms are varieties that were grown before WWII. Or, it simply means a variety that has been passed down for generations. Granny Cantrell tomatoes fit all those criteria.
Granny Cantrell is a rare heirloom tomato named for Lettie Cantrell. A soldier returning from Germany after WWII gave her the seed. Lettie said she saved the seed from the largest tomatoes every year and that it was the only tomato she grew in the hills of eastern Kentucky.
She grew this tomato since the 1940s and described the hefty fruit as a "very large and tasty." Lettie died in November 2005, at the age of 96.
Granny Cantrell is admired for rich, old-fashioned flavor in big tomatoes that can be 1 - 2 pounds. Mine were a pound or a little less. A productive beefsteak type, Granny Cantrell's win taste tests across the country.
Expect fruit 75-85 days from transplant. This is an indeterminate, meaning it just keeps growing until frost. With heavy tomatoes on big vines, make sure to plan for sturdy staking or plant support.
Often described as a German red tomato, I would call it a German pink. It has regular leaves and very long vines. Must be well staked or caged to produce the biggest tomatoes. Granny Cantrell is a favorite of mine. I don't grow it every year, but Granny is a regular guest in my garden.
Heirlooms are not bred for disease resistance. Since they've been around for over a hundred years, they must have something going for them. It is superior flavor. To reduce opportunity for disease, only water the roots, not the foliage.
When the temperatures are consistently warm, mulch the tomato plants with about three inches of organic matter. I've used pine straw, chopped leaves, shredded paper and grass clippings. You can also use black plastic. The purpose is to keep from splashing the plant when watering.
Some other disease prevention suggestions include, remove the lower leaves on the plant to reduce possible contact with the soil when watering. Do not over water; tomatoes do not like wet feet.
Grow really big tomatoes
I like the big tomatoes, the kind that a single tomato slice will cover the whole slice of bread. All super-sized tomatoes grow at the expense of quantity. Generally, you can grow a lot of medium sized tomatoes, or grow a few, really big tomatoes.
To grow the really big tomatoes, give your plant plenty of room and support. Make sure the plant is well staked before the fruits start to grow. Consistent watering is important. Water the roots, not the leaves. Take care not to over fertilize. Adding too much fertilizer will produce big green leafy plant, not record breaking tomatoes.Too much nitrogrn is the cause.
Remove all the suckers from the plant. Choose three or four tomatoes as close to the vine as possible. If tomatoes need extra support to keep from snapping the vine, support the tomato with a sling made from panty hose. Then, remove all the other little tomatoes as soon as they appear.
I bought the Granny Cantrell seed at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed and plants at Abundant Acres. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has seed too. All good reliable sources. You may want to start saving this seed yourself when you see how rare and difficult to locate Granny.