Growing Heirloom Tomato Varieties

Learn about the history and ideal growing conditions for several heirloom tomato varieties, and start growing these tempting tomatoes today.

| March 2012 Web

  • ‘Cherokee Purple’ does not turn completely purple, but its excellent smoky flavor is consistent.
    Photo By Marie Iannotti
  • ‘Green Grape’ is actually pale yellow when at its peak and orange when fully mature.
    Photo By Marie Iannotti
  • In “The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables,” heirloom expert Marie Iannotti brings us fascinating stories, but more importantly, she tells us which heirloom varieties are the easiest to grow and the tastiest to eat, and how to cultivate each one successfully.
    Photo Courtesy Timber Press
  • ‘Opalka’ can hang onto large clusters of tomatoes, but it is prone to losing its leaves.
    Photo By Marie Iannotti
  • ‘Purple’ tomatillos turn purple when they are ready to be harvested.
    Photo By Marie Iannotti
  • ‘Riesentraube’ ripens slowly down its clustered stem of tomatoes for a lengthy snacking season.
    Photo By Marie Iannotti
  • ‘Yellow Pear’ is one of the most popular tomatoes sold at farmers’ markets, but it is easy to grow in your own garden.
    Photo By Marie Iannotti
  • Because of its firm shell, ‘Yellow Stuffer’ tends to keep longer than juicy tomatoes.
    Photo By Marie Iannotti

There are few things in this world as instantly satisfying as biting into a sweet, summer tomato warm from the vine. In Marie Iannotti’s The Beginner’s Guide to Growing Heirloom Vegetables (Timber Press, 2011), you can learn to easily grow an assortment of heirloom tomato varieties, as well as some of the most flavorful heirloom vegetables. From a history of each plant to ideal soil temperature, Iannotti goes into incredible detail so you can savor a delectable array of old-world vegetables when it comes time to harvest. This excerpt is taken from the Chapter “Tomatoes, Tomatillos, and Ground Cherries.” 

No other vegetable has done more to highlight heirlooms than the tomato. Unlike modern hybrids that are bred with thick skins to resist bruising in transit, tender, open-pollinated heirlooms lure you with their rich tomato scent and flavor. A sun-kissed tomato has been known to seduce more than one tomato lover into becoming a gardener.

Growing heirloom tomatoes is an addictive, competitive sport. You cannot grow just one. As with fresh melons, tomatoes’ sweet fragrance tells you they are ready to harvest. Just brushing up against the plant will leave their lingering scent with you.

Tomatillos are like sassy tomatoes that make their presence known no matter how they are prepared. You can mix them with any Latin spices and instantly create a flavorful meal. With their citrusy tomato flavor, their refreshing acidity can wake up any dish and get the party started in the kitchen.



Ground cherries may resemble tomatillos, but they are much fruitier and sweetly refreshing. Like tomatillos, the fruits are protected in a papery husk and are sometimes called husk tomatoes.

Cherokee Purple Tomato

‘Brandywine’ gets all the press, but most tomato gardeners I know are rhapsodic about ‘Cherokee Purple’. The dusky colored fruits are a beefsteak size with small seeds, and they are usually a nicely uniform, round shape. They grow well in most climates. The shoulders of the tomato have a tendency to stay green, which is true of several heirloom varieties, but this does not affect their unique, delectable richness. The vines are indeterminate, though not particularly tall, and produce baseball-sized tomatoes.






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