Heirloom Tomatoes-With so many to choose from??

paws4petsDecember 23, 2005

I would like to try my hand at some Heirloom Tomatoes next year. What kind do you like and why? Zone 5 here so gets pretty cold. Also when do you start your seeds?

Thanks all. Just discovered this forum so time to glean the knowledge.


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snappybob(SaTexas Zone 8)

You want to start your seeds inside 6-8 weeks before your last frost. Keep the planting meduim warm, on top of the refridgerator is a good place or you can buy a heating mat to place under them. After the seedlings emerge put a grow light or any flourecent shop light above them about an inch or two above the leaves. Check with growers in your area to see what types they have had the best luck with. I would suggest that you search around the heirloom forum for information on starting tomatoes from seed. I placed a pretty good link below that would be good to read. Good luck.

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing tomatoes from seed

    Bookmark   December 27, 2005 at 10:15AM
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mark_brown(7 NC)

i plannt my seeds 12 weeks befor average last frost and at 6 weeks they go into 16 oz foam cups with hole in bottom of the cup. i find this seedling gives the best transplant and have read others having the same experience.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2005 at 11:27AM
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robbins(z5/6 MO)

You might zip over to the Growing Tomato forum for a wealth of info on varieties and growing heirloom tomatoes.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2005 at 9:16AM
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Thanks all

    Bookmark   December 29, 2005 at 3:28PM
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paws4pets, It looks to me that you didn't get a response to your question about Heirloom Tomatoes - "What kind do you like and why?" And, since you are in the Market Gardener forum you are probably thinking of growing for market.

I also live in Zone 5 and in an arid part of the country with darn cold night time temperatures. Any tomato variety over 75 days isn't worth the risk - you can only sell so many green tomatoes.

Some folks believe that to actually be an heirloom grower you should be growing what is an heirloom for your area - geographical heirlooms. You can't "borrow" an heirloom from another part of the world and claim it as an heirloom in your neck of the woods. I'm not that kind of purist but it would be a good idea for you to contact your local Master Gardener folks at the county extension office and check on what has grown in SE Iowa for all those decades - obviously with some success.

We grow and sell my family heirloom tomato which came from my grandmother's garden more than 1000 miles from here. I'll be darned if I don't think I'm entitled to call it "our" heirloom since it's been in my family since the 1930's.

We call this tomato a Pink Pearl. It is pink and pearl shaped and granny's name was Pearl. She called it the "peddler's tomato" because that's how she got it. But, you know what? It just MAY be a Porter tomato. We finally grew a Porter last season and we still don't know. They are very similar in looks, taste and earliness. The Porter plants were quite a bit different in appearance but that just may be because they've grown apart for the last 70 years. Anyway, I tell customers that it is a tomato for those folks who don't think they like tomatoes - very mild. (Totally Tomatoes & others list Porter as an heirloom.)

Personally, I like tomatoes. There's a grower at the market who has wonderful heirlooms each year but he lives about 100 miles away at a lower elevation, probably a zone 6. He's got a couple types of Brandywine and Costoluto Genovese that make my mouth water just looking at them.

In 2006, I'll be trying Stupice which is supposed to be a 55-60 day cherry with good cold tolerance. Now don't get me wrong, we've got some nice large & small tomatoes but they ain't heirlooms. Here are the days-to-maturity for those I've mentioned:

Stupice 55-60 days
Porter 65 days
Brandywine varieties 80-90 days
Costoluto Genovese 72-90 days (?)

Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2005 at 11:54PM
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Thanks Steve

    Bookmark   December 30, 2005 at 1:54AM
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A side note - remember to look for disease resistance. In my area plenty of gardeners wish they could get a crop from heirlooms but the disease issues ruin their plans most summers, so they have to plant hybrids in order to harvest anything.

I don't market produce, I market seedlings and live plants to area gardeners. I have plenty of customers wanting heirlooms to grow but most long term gardeners are looking for the tried and true for my area which most often is a hybrid. Being mostly old tobacco farmland there is plenty of disease in the soil and tomatoes can be tricky.

Even with the heightened heirloom consciousness of this area I mostly sell large round red tomato varieties.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2005 at 10:52AM
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I grow a lot of heirloom tomatoes and agree for zone 5 you need to look for short season tomatoes. Especially ones that can handle cold nights. The tomato forum has lots of help. I stake my tomotoes and grow in a hoop house.

Most of my seeds have come from the exchange there. Some of the ones I would recommend to try for zone 5 are
Gold Nugget - earliest yellow cherry - 2-3 ft tall
Kotlas - earliest small golf ball size red 3-4 ft tall
Azotycha (sp?) medium earliest yellow tomato
Stupice - small - medium red tomato
Prarie Fire - small - medium red tomato
Moskavich - medium pink tomato
Earli Belle - medium red tomato
Black Russian - medium black
Black Prince - little later medium black
Taxi - medium yellow - doesn't keep well and thin skin
Fordhook 1st - medium pink tomato

There are many more but these have been very successful for me.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2005 at 11:19AM
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sandy0225(z5 Indiana)

I start my own plants and I had very good luck last year with the following in my zone 5 Indiana garden:
Kellogg's Breakfast, mortgage lifter, super beefsteak, san marzano, siberia, yellow giant belgium, white queen, hillbilly, black krim, aunt ruby's german green, amish paste, and sausage paste. I didn't like the stupice here at all, they kept cracking, and I ended up not picking very many that were edible because of cracking. The cherry tomatoes I planted were black cherry, ildi (yellow grape), sungold, red cherry, snow white, and yellow pear. Most of those did well, there was some kind of a yellow one that I planted that was bigger, but it cracked a whole lot, and I didn't save one seed from that one.
Last year was pretty hot here, so it might not have been a fair test, but I've grown Delicious for three years now,and they have been good each year, too.
Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   January 2, 2006 at 6:01PM
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Sandy, Can you give me some advice on market gardening? I was contemplating growing some produce for our local farmers market, but I am not sure if I need to carry liability insurance. Have you any advice? Thanks, Paul.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2006 at 6:29PM
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If you are still looking for some ideas on tomatoes, please do not be that concerned about being in Zone 5. I am in an area of the great plains that tends to be Zone 3 some years as in late springs, early frosts of Sept. 1, 40 below winters and I never stay away from long season tomatoes.
I have though been working on a tomatoe growing system which fits my needs. Personally, I sprout my seeds a week before I want to plant. Here that is May 1. We usually get a last frost around May 15. Please remember there is a difference between frost and freezing.
Tomatoes will take being in hot caps or plastic bags to 28 degrees I have found, but you are so far south that you should never have to push the envelope. Zone 5 usually is wonderful weather May 1 to almost October 1. You can plant late and still harvest.
I use coffee cans with both ends cut out as collars around my tomatoes that serve as hot houses with plastic bags on top, protection from wind and cut worms and later as a conservation watering system.
You can use black plastic to add to the warmth to speed growth, but it would best be for weeds and water conservation where you are.
Last year in a very cold May, I still with Silvery Fir Tree, had ripe tomatoes by August 1st.
There is a secret most people do not realize and that is it takes heat to make a tomatoe come to full flavor. Tomatoes taste better in the later varieties, because of the heat they are grown in. Fir is wonderful, but when the later tomatoes come into harvest a month later one soon realizes how bland they are. Even if they surpass the ones in the stores.
As for varieties, that is really up to taste as you are in an area that most tomatoes will grow in easily given plenty of sun.
Please pay close attention to descriptions as you will find fruity, sweet, acidic as traits, and, only by what you think a tomatoe tastes like will appeal to you.
For a full bodied flavor, Beefsteak varieties are nice. Acidic are Sioux, Big Boy (Open Pollinated), Fruity and Sweet, I have found a late season called Rose perfect.
A good example of preferences is Brandywine which so many people love. It was the first I started growing and when I bit into it, I found it was that "musty cellar" tomatoe my Grampa grew 30 years ago. It is just not for me, but you might love it.
That is the fun of heirlooms as there are hundreds to look forward to trying every year....but please know this too that last year I found mid season Oxheart and Reisentraub take alot more heat to germinate than say Red Pear or Druzba to sprout.
I hope some additional insight from another gardening perspective helps your new adventure to be wonderful.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2006 at 3:29PM
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