Did you know that the tomato is the most popular garden bounty in America? And in recent years, heirloom versions have become quite popular among gardeners and tomato lovers alike. The science behind heirlooms tells us that seeds saved from non-hybrid varieties produce plants quite similar to the parent plant – which offers us some more interesting and unique tomato flavors and types.

Heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market

As with the more familiar hybrids, heirloom tomatoes are incredibly productive and disease-resistant – and unbelievably flavorful. Heirloom tomatoes come in all shapes, colors and sizes. On the outside, they are not always perfect: Some varieties, for example, split easily due to thin skins – one reason why one doesn’t see an abundance of them for sale commercially. Others, however, are like miniature works of art when sliced, with surprising veins of color inside.

Looking to grow your own, or wanting to know what varieties to choose at the farmers market? Here are a few of our favorite heirloom tomatoes, by color and use:

  • orange (Orange Oxheart, a delicious beefsteak)
  • green (Evergreen, another beefsteak)
  • white (Great White, which can be up to 2 pounds, with pink inside)
  • yellow (Chuck’s Yellow, beefsteak)
  • gold (Gold Oxheart)
  • purple (Cherokee Purple)
  • black (Black Krim)
  • striped (Tigerella, red with gold stripes)
  • bicolor (Big Rainbow, gold with splashes of red)
  • plum (Ernie’s Plump, great for canning)
  • cherry (Rideau Sweet Red, although there are hundreds of varieties in all colors)
  • stuffing (Liberty Bell, a red)
  • beefsteak (Black Mountain Pink)

What’s your favorite variety of heirloom tomates? Let us know in the comments.

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  1. I want to find American Ginseng seeds to grow in my forested land in Door County? Where can I obtain seeds?

  2. Here are a couple of websites that our gardening columnist suggested: seedrack.com, ginseng-seed.com and wildgrown.com. Good luck!

    Jessy Yancey
    Farm Flavor

  3. I have planted Heirloom Tomatoes for the last
    couple of years now and do not seem to have
    very good luck with them producing. We have
    raised beds with miracle grow vegatable soil mixed with organic
    mulch and can’t understand what I am doing wrong.
    Thanks for any helpful suggestions.

  4. Hi Donette,

    I recommend a couple of things. First, depending on where you live, you can send in a soil sample to your local extension (here in Tennessee, it’s the UT extension service) to find out what sort of nutrients you need to add to your soil. You can also reach an extension agent or a master gardener who might be able to help more specifically for growing tomatoes in your area.

    Tomatoes are pretty finicky, I’ve found from my own experience with a backyard garden. They need the perfect balance of sunlight and water. You should definitely plant them in an area that receives direct sunlight, but you have to be sure they get enough water — and not to overwater them if it’s a rainy summer. I’ve also used a fertilizer called Tomato-Tone, but I think any tomato-specific fertilizer would help.

    Good luck!
    Jessy Yancey, editor


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