All About Heirloom Tomatoes

Posted by in Gardening on January 19, 2016 0 comments
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There are many factors along the way that can affect a heirloom tomato’s quality such as watering, fertilizing, ripeness when picking, and storage and handling factors. Two mistakes often made when heirloom tomatoes make it into the kitchen is refrigerating them or leaving them on a sunny windowsill to ripen (only tomato plants need full sun; harvested fruit does not). Both of these practices will degrade flavor.

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Determinate Bush type Heirloom Tomatoes:The Determinate Heirloom Tomato plant stops growing when the fruit sets and the majority of fruit develops at the same time over a 3 to 4 week period. Determinate Heirloom Tomatoes generally do not need staking. Caging does help to keep everything together though.
Indeterminate Vine type Heirloom Tomatoes:Indeterminate Heirloom Tomatoes continue to grow, set fruit, and ripen until a frost arrives. Indeterminate Heirloom Tomatoes grow best when grown with stakes, cages or some other kind of support. Instead of using string to tie up Heirloom Tomatoes (string has a tendency to cut into the plant), try tearing an old bed sheet into 1″ strips and using the strips to tie them up.

Growing Heirloom Tomato From Seeds

The main crop in some home gardens, and for the home gardener are Heirloom Tomatoes. Just a few healthy plants will produce buckets of beautiful Tomatoes loaded with flavor and nutrition. Heirloom Tomatoes run on warmth, so they are best planted in late spring and early summer except in Zone 10, where they are a fall and winter crop.Choosing heirloom varieties can be confusing because there is such a large of selection of Tomato seeds to choose from, but we try to put a good description for each Heirloom Tomato to make choosing easier. But its still a good idea to plant some of each for variety and length of season. Devote a prime, sunny spot for your heirloom Tomatoes, which will grow into a tall screen of green foliage studded with ripening fruits in mid- to late summer. Heirloom Tomatoes need at least 8 hours of sun to bring out their best flavors, and for Indeterminate heirloom Tomatoes you should stake, trellis, or cage the sprawling plants to keep them off the ground.
You can plant early season heirloom varieties with mid and late season, but wait until any danger of frost has passed before you transplant your tomatoes.
USDA Hardiness Zone -First Frost Date- Last Frost Date
  • Zone 1 -July 15th -June 15th
  • Zone 2 -August 15th- May 15th
  • Zone 3 -September 15th May 15th
  • Zone 4 -September 15th May 15th
  • Zone 5 -October 15th April 15th
  • Zone 6 -October 15th April 15th
  • Zone 7 -October 15th April 15th
  • Zone 8 -November 15th March 15th
  • Zone 9 -December 15th February 15th
  • Zone 10 -December 15th January 31st (sometimes earlier)
  • Zone 11 _No frost. No frost.
Start indoors in a warm, well-lighted area at least 5-7 weeks before last the last frost. Sow heirloom Tomato seeds ¼” deep in seed starting formula. Keep evenly moist. Heirloom Tomato seedlings emerge in 5-8 days at 70° F. Prior to transplanting to the garden, accustom to outdoor conditions by moving to a sheltered place outside for a week.
Transplanting Heirloom Tomatoes
The heirloom Tomato seedlings should be planted 3-4ft apart each way if left unstaked, 2½ft apart each way if staked or grown in cages. Heirloom Tomatoes need full sun and well drained soil. The best time to transplant is on a cloudy day or in the morning or evening hours when the sun is not as intense. Water your heirloom tomato seedlings just before you are ready to transplant to help the root ball stay intact.
Gardening Tips
Water deeply once a week in dry weather. Cultivate or mulch to control weeds. Space robust, long-vine, indeterminate varieties about 3 feet apart. Stocky determinate plants can be grown at tighter 2-foot spacing. A single patio heirloom tomato plant will fill an 18-inch-wide container.
Growing Information
Heirloom Tomatoes take up nutrients best when the soil pH ranges from 6.2 to 6.8, and they need a constant supply of major and minor plant nutrients. To provide the major nutrients, mix a balanced timed-release or organic fertilizer into the soil as you prepare the holes for planting, and be careful to follow the rates given on the label. At the same time, mix in 3 to 4 inches of compost. The compost will provide minor nutrients and help hold moisture and fertilizer in the soil until it is needed by the plants.

To quickly increase the root mass of the heirloom tomato plants, we recommend soil that is loose and deep planting, so that two-thirds of the plant’s stem is buried in moist, loose soil. Cover the ground with 2 to 4 inches of mulch to help suppress weeds and keep the soil evenly moist. You can use straw and or shredded leaves as they make great mulches for tomatoes, or you can use weed-free grass clippings, applied in 1-inch layers every few weeks. Do not apply grass clippings any thicker or they will mat down and prevent water from passing through entirely. If summer droughts are common in your area, use soaker hoses, drip systems or other drought techniques to help maintain the even soil moisture, which is the key to preventing cracked fruits and blossom-end rot. For maximum efficiency and eye appeal, place soaker hoses around the plants and cover with mulch.As the summer starts to heat up, some heirloom tomatoes will show signs that it is difficult for them to set fruit. Be patient however, and you will start seeing little green tomatoes again when nights begin to cool down. Meanwhile, promptly harvest and remove the ripe heirloom tomatoes as to relieve stressed plants of their heavy burden. If you live in an area where summertime temperatures are typically in the 90s, be sure to choose some varieties bred for their ability to set fruit under high temperatures. By late summer, Heirloom Tomato plants that began producing early in the season will show signs of exhaustion. It will take but a few minutes to coax out new growth by pruning away withered leaves and branches. Then follow up with liquid fertilizer and treatments for leaf diseases or insects, if needed. If you have humid conditions that are close to the ground, this will create the ideal conditions for fungal diseases like early blight, which causes dark spots to form on the lower leaves. Remove the leaves from the bottom so nothing is touching the ground.

In mid-summer, big green caterpillars called tomato hornworms eat tomato foliage and sometimes damage fruits as well. As your heirloom tomatoes begin to ripen, their color changes from vibrant medium-green to a lighter shade, with faint pink or yellow stripes. These “breakers,” or mature green tomatoes, can be chopped into Tomato salsa, pickled, or pan-fried into a crispy appetizer. Or you can allow the tomato flavor to become much more complex as the fruits ripen, so you have good reason to wait. The exact signs of ripeness vary with each variety, but the general rule would be for perfectly ripe heirloom tomatoes, is that they show deep color yet still feel firm when gently squeezed. Store your picked heirloom tomatoes at room temperature indoors, or in a shady, cooler place outside. Never refrigerate heirloom tomatoes, because as temperatures get below 55°F, this will cause the flavors to break down. Abundant crops can be frozen, canned, or dried for future use. If you see cracking: Both radical cracking ( from the stem downward) and concentric cracking( around the stem) is caused when the plant takes up too much water too quickly. As heirloom tomatoes begin turning red, their skin becomes less flexible. Uneven watering or rain following a dry period encourages the plant to drink too quickly, thus cracking the fruit in a radical direction. Later in the season cool nights combine with uneven moisture will then cause the concentric cracking. The smallest like cherry tomatoes and tomatoes over 3″ in diameter are most susceptible, as well as old varieties.

There are many factors along the way that can affect a heirloom tomato’s quality such as watering, fertilizing, ripeness when picking, and storage and handling factors. Two mistakes often made when heirloom tomatoes make it into the kitchen is refrigerating them or leaving them on a sunny windowsill to ripen (only tomato plants need full sun; harvested fruit does not). Both of these practices will degrade flavor.
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