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Garden Tips from The Micro Farm Project: Heirloom & Open Pollinated Tomatoes

Updated on August 5, 2013

Open-Pollinated Historical Tomato Varieties in Every Color of the Rainbow!

Do you remember Pinky Tuscadero from the hit television show "Happy Days?" As a kid, she was one of my favorite characters, with her bright pink jacket and sassy attitude. So when one of my favorite growers arrived at the nursery for our weekly growing bazaar with a tomato labeled Pinky Tuscadero, I was hooked. Here was a variety that I had never seen anywhere else, and that's not all. Flats of tomato starts came in through the door with names like Black Sea Man, Taxi, Dwarf Roselle Purple, Pink Berkely Tie Dye, and Coyote.All of the varieties were open pollinated, meaning that they were pollinated without human assistance, and many of the varieties were also heirloom tomatoes. The tomatoes flew off the shelves and the nursery buzzed all day with wonder and the promise of a harvest of tomatoes in every color of the rainbow!

What is an heirloom tomato? Just as heirloom furniture is passed down for its sentimental or antique value from one family member to another over a period of years, an heirloom tomato variety is one that has been passed down, through several generation, because of it's beneficial characteristics. All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated, meaning they are pollinated by natural means. Tomato experts, Craig LeHoullier and Carolyn Male of the "Off the Vine" newsletter, have classified heirloom varieties into four categories:

Commercial Heirlooms: Open-pollinated varieties introduced before 1940, or in circulation for a minimum of 50 years.

Family Heirlooms: Seeds that have been passed down for several generations via a particular family.

Created Heirlooms: Crossing two known parent varieties and dehybridizing the resulting seeds for many years to stabilize the desired characteristics. This process can take 8-10 years, or even longer.

Mystery Heirlooms: Varieties that are produced via natural cross-pollination of heirloom tomato varieties.

All heirloom varieties are open-pollinated and are great for home gardeners who save seed as heirloom tomato seeds will produce the same tomato when planted for the next season. Note that all heirloom tomatoes are open -pollinated, but not all open-pollinated tomatoes, such as Pinky Tuscadero, are heirlooms.

Let's take a look at some amazing heirloom and open-pollinated tomatoes, the benefits and drawbacks of heirloom varieties, and where to obtain them.

Photo credit: tamaradulva on flickr

Red Heirloom Tomato Varieties

Tomato San Marzano Great Heirloom Garden Vegetable 100 Seeds
Tomato San Marzano Great Heirloom Garden Vegetable 100 Seeds

An Italian paste variety that produces and abundance of plum-typed fruits with meaty walls and very little juice. Fantastic for tomato sauce and many prefer the taste over that of Roma tomatoes. Free shipping.

 
Seeds and Things Organic Heirloom RED Old-fasion Beefsteak Tomatoes 20 Seeds
Seeds and Things Organic Heirloom RED Old-fasion Beefsteak Tomatoes 20 Seeds

One of the largest varieties of tomatoes. A beautiful and delicious slicing tomato.

 

Pink Heirloom Tomato Varieties

Pink varieties do not have a typical yellow skin that makes red tomato flesh appear to have an red-orange hue. Instead, they are covered with clear skin that makes the red interior appear to have a pinkish cast.

Watermelon Beefsteak Tomato 25 Seeds - Impressive!
Watermelon Beefsteak Tomato 25 Seeds - Impressive!

An amazingly large and meaty pink beefsteak. 85-days. When ripe, tomatoes exhibit shades of purple and brown.

 
75+ Pink Oxheart Tomato Seeds- Heirloom Variety!
75+ Pink Oxheart Tomato Seeds- Heirloom Variety!

Produces an abundance of heart-shaped fruits. Large in size. Firm, meaty texture that is great for sauces or slicing.

 

Orange Heirloom Tomato Varieties

Kellogg's Breakfast Tomato 30 Seeds -Orange - Heirloom
Kellogg's Breakfast Tomato 30 Seeds -Orange - Heirloom

Stunning orange fruit with rich tomato flavor and just a few seeds. Indeterminate variety with huge fruits!

 

Yellow Heirloom Tomato Varieties

Tomato Yellow Pear Great Heirloom Garden Vegetable Seeds By Seed Kingdom (200 Seeds)
Tomato Yellow Pear Great Heirloom Garden Vegetable Seeds By Seed Kingdom (200 Seeds)

75 days. This extremely old variety produces prolific numbers of bite-sized fruits. The bright yellow tomatoes have a deliciously pungent, tangy flavor.

 
Tomato Taxi D739 (Yellow Slicer) 25 Organic Seeds by David's Garden Seeds
Tomato Taxi D739 (Yellow Slicer) 25 Organic Seeds by David's Garden Seeds

The size of a baseball, these lemon-yellow tomatoes have smooth skin that resists cracking and blemishes. Meaty, sweet flesh. Beautiful addition to the garden that is easy to grow.

 

Green Heirloom Tomato Varieties

Organic Green Zebra Heirloom Tomato 50+ seeds
Organic Green Zebra Heirloom Tomato 50+ seeds

Tangy salad tomato that develops yellow hues and distinct striping when it is ready to pick. 3-4 oz salad-sized fruits that are perfect for wedges or slicing. Though technically not an heirloom, it has many heirloom qualities. Indeterminate, 7-days.

 

Blue & Purple Heirloom Tomato Varieties

OSU Blue Tomato- 5 Seeds - The Worlds 1st Blue Tomato,Rare
OSU Blue Tomato- 5 Seeds - The Worlds 1st Blue Tomato,Rare

Stunning dark purple tomato from Oregon State University. Green fruits turn dark purple in the sunlight. Medium size fruits. Pinkish red flesh with a subtle, aromatic flavor. Foliage turns purple in cold conditions. 80-90 days.

 
50+ Purple Russian Tomato Seeds- Rare Heirloom Variety
50+ Purple Russian Tomato Seeds- Rare Heirloom Variety

Highly productive tomato. 4-inch fruits have a rich, smokey flavor. Resists cracking and is cold and heat tolerant. Indeterminate, 55-67 days to maturity from transplant.

 

Black Heirloom Tomato Varieties

Although these varieties are called "black" tomatoes, none of them are actually black. Their pigments are very dark, however, sometimes appearing black.

Black Sea Man Tomato 10 Seeds - Heirloom
Black Sea Man Tomato 10 Seeds - Heirloom

Determinate plants with flavorful deep-brown fruits. Blanch and peel to reveal unique skeleton-like venation. 75 days from transplant. Free shipping.

 

White Heirloom Tomato Varieties

White Wonder Tomato 25 Seeds - Great Taste - Heirloom
White Wonder Tomato 25 Seeds - Great Taste - Heirloom

This 90-day , indeterminate tomato has subtle, sweet flavor with high sugar content. Yellowish-white skin and flesh at maturity. Large fruits for canning and slicing. Free shipping.

 
SnowBerry Tomato Seeds 30+ seeds-Very Rare!
SnowBerry Tomato Seeds 30+ seeds-Very Rare!

Rare, pale yellow cherry tomato that is very popular in Europe. Highly productive with sweet, fruity flavor.

 

Rainbow Heirloom Tomato Varieties

*Seeds and Things Rainbow Blend Cherry Tomato – 25+ Seeds
*Seeds and Things Rainbow Blend Cherry Tomato – 25+ Seeds

Mix of tomatoes in many colors! Bite-size fruits in red, orange, yellow, green, creamy white, purple, and even bi-colors!

 

Heirloom Tomatoes Have Pros and Cons

Growing heirloom tomato varieties has its benefits, as well as its drawbacks.

Pros:

Heirloom tomatoes are selected for their exceptional flavors. Many of them that are highly pigmented also have high nutritional value. The varieties are diverse, unusual and interesting, adding "wow" to your garden spectrum. Some varieties have been saved from extinction, and others have been passed down through families, adding a sense of heritage and history to their cultivation.

Cons:

Most heirloom varieties are not as disease resistant as hardy nursery stock varieties, and should not be grown in the same garden patch in consecutive years to prevent the spread of blights, leaf spots and Verticillium wilt. They are also favorable to pests, which tend to prefer heirloom varieties. Though many are good producers, their yields tend to be smaller than nursery stock varieties.

Many gardeners who love to grow heirloom varieties for their unique characteristics also grow standard hybrids to improve their yields in a kind of "best of both words" situation. I personally grow both. I am willing to fight diseases and pests to have lovely and unique heirlooms in my garden, but I also grow some proven winners to ensure that I get a bountiful harvest for canning.

What about you? Do you include heirloom tomato varieties in your garden plan?

Yes, they are worth it!

Yes, they are worth it!

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    • anonymous 4 years ago

      I grew the Pinky Tuscadero tomatoes last season they did great a must grow loved them.

    • SteveKaye 4 years ago

      I recently tried heirloom tomatoes and they are really delicious. Modern store tomatoes have been altered to look good, and that's where the improvement ends.

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      We grew our first heirloom tomatoes last year and we are hooked! They were sooo much better than anything else we have ever planted

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      I plant only heirloom tomatoes in my garden, round-type Brandywines and roma-type San Marzanos. I must say the romas far outpace the round ones and this year will be the only tomato I plant. (visiting from Farm Girl Friday)

      ~Taylor-Made Ranch~

      Wolfe City, Texas

      www.taylormaderanch.com/blog

    • anonymous 4 years ago

      Pinky Tuscadero! That is a total blast from the past, I liked her too! I haven't planted tomatoes, but I like having the information to file away. ;) Visiting today from Thursday's Favorite Things.

    No, only proven winners for me.

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      Photo credit: The Micro Farm Project
      Photo credit: The Micro Farm Project

      Overcoming Heirloom Tomato Drawbacks

      Heirloom tomatoes are delicious, gorgeous and stunning in the garden. But they tend to be more fragile than hybrids, both on and off the vine. To maximize your harvest success, follow these guidelines.

      1. Plant heirloom tomatoes in a different garden area in successive years to prevent the spread of diseases that can attack and kill your valuable tomato plants. Preferably, if you have planted tomatoes in a particular garden area, it is best to avoid planting tomatoes in that spot again for two more years if you have enough garden space to create a three-year rotation.

      2. If you soil is calcium deficient, add some crushed eggshells to the planting hole to help prevent blossom-end rot. Tomatoes also benefit from organic fertilizer that contains phosphorous and potassium.

      3. Provide nutrient-rich soil amended with compost and an even watering schedule to keep your plants healthy. Healthy tomatoes resist disease and pests better than weak tomatoes.

      4. Watch tomatoes closely and harvest as soon as the fruit is ripe. Plan ahead to eat, cook or preserve heirloom tomatoes quickly once they are harvested.

      5. If a ripe tomato spoils or falls from the vine and is inedible, save the seeds! Seeds from heirloom tomato varieties will produce the same plant for you the next season. No need to purchase seeds again next year.

      By following these guidelines, you can maximize your harvest and reduce waste in the garden.

      Natural Control of Verticillium and Fusarium Diseases

      Many of the hybrid tomatoes on the market today have been bred for their resistance to common tomato root diseases caused by Verticillium and Fusarium pathogens. Most heirloom varieties do not share this resistance, and are susceptible to root rot. Actinovate organic treatment can help. Actinovate for Lawn & Garden provides a beneficial microorganism that grows on the plant's roots and leaves, crowding out and attacking harmful pathogens that can cause disease. When applied to leaves or soil, Actinovate naturally and effectively suppresses many diseases, including spots, blights, rusts, molds and mildews.

      A little goes a long way! A 2-oz bag can treat a 5,000 sq, ft. lawn or 550 plants. For best results, reapply as a root drench monthly and as a foliar application every two weeks throughout the growing season.

      Where is the Lens "Tips from The Micro Farm Project: Heirloom Tomatoes" Posted?

      This article is posted on a number of sites of interest to gardeners, DIYers, homesteaders, and crafters. Here are some places where you can find this and other articles byThe Micro Farm Project.

      What heirloom plants do you love to grow?

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        • Judith Nazarewicz profile image

          Judith Nazarewicz 4 years ago from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

          I love heirloom tomatoes and your lens is just loaded with great information for anyone who wants to try their hands at growing the best tasting tomatoes!

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          drcarl 4 years ago

          I grow heirloom corn and some beans from the Cherokee tribe...well, it grows itself....lol

        • profile image

          drcarl 4 years ago

          What a great collection of information. Thanks! I sure am glad I grow food instead of lawn. Why did it take me so long to awaken? Ya can't eat a lawn. Careful not to kill the good soil biology with chlorine. Check out my first lens. I bet you can find it and it's appropriate for gardeners who care.

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Wow I never knew there were so many types of tomatoes. Very informative. Thanks for linking up at Transformed Tuesday. Hugs, Peggy~PJH Designs

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          SteveKaye 4 years ago

          We have a very, very small place where we could grow anything. Right now it has been left alone to grow wildflowers. And so I buy organic produce from a local store.

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          Thanks for sharing this on The Creative HomeAcre Hop!

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          I've tried a # of them, but have had problems with disease resistance. The Tigerella did quite well, however. Thanks for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop!

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          I love to grow Amish Paste Roma Tomatoes