For Color, Variety and Flavor, Try Heirloom Tomatoes
Thinking about trying something new in the veggie garden this season? If so, KUNC Gardener Tom Throgmorton suggests trying something old...
A tomato that is symmetrically round and ruby red is probably not an heirloom tomato. Heirloom tomatoes come in all shapes. They can be any color from yellow to almost black. And they are flavorful.
Heirlooms are open pollinated varieties. Their seeds can be saved from year to year and generation to generation. These are called family heirloom tomato varieties. They have names like Cherokee Purple or Lillian’s Yellow.
Commercial heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated varieties that have been around for fifty years or more. They were bred for certain characteristics. Usually size and flavor were the most important traits.
These old tomato varieties are also classified by color. Heirlooms can be yellow, pink or bi-colored. Like Aunt Gertie’s Gold, which has one to two pound fruit. Or Bull’s Heart -- a Russian pink variety. Or Big Orange Stripe, a bi-color variety. I notice in the catalogs most of the bi-color types need a long, hot growing season.
There is also a group of dark purple, almost black-colored heirloom tomatoes. Most of these varieties come from the southern Ukraine or Germany. At first sight these dark, odd shaped fruit get your attention. But they are supposed to be some of the most flavorful tomatoes.
Black Krim has three to four inch unusually shaped fruit. It is supposed to have an intense, smoky taste. Black Sea Man is supposed to have complex tomato flavor. Purple Haze is a sweet cherry tomato. Its purple flesh is supposed to have more antioxidants than other varieties.
It is hard to tell when green heirloom tomatoes are ripe unless you feel them. They’re ready when they are soft to the touch and they bruise easily. Green Giant is a German variety. The catalog says it is `arguably one of the best tasting green varieties.’ I might try Green Sausage. This novelty tomato has yellow and green striped, sausage-shaped fruit.
If you’re thinking of trying something new in the veggie garden this season, try something old. Heirloom tomatoes will add different colors and shapes to your garden. They grow as easily as other tomato varieties. Many heirloom varieties are tall vines and will need support.
The internet has a wealth of information about heirloom tomatoes. Many catalogs have a section devoted to their favorite old timers. You can find the seeds on garden center seed racks, too.