It’s that time again. A wonderous time of year, celebrated annually here after the last average frost date (around May 10). This is when those juicy tomatoes and other yummy summer vegetables can be planted in my garden (Zone 6b). And over the years, I’ve grown everything from ‘Green Zebra’ and ‘Purple Cherokee’ to ‘Brandywine,’ – often at the same time, as you can see above.
Photo copyright Kevin O’Connor.
It can be tricky to start tomatoes from seeds, especially if you don’t have ideal seed-starting conditions. So I typically buy organically grown transplants from my farmer’s market or at nearby farms. This supports my local community, and makes it easier for me to find my favorite heirlooms.
As you can see, last week’s farmer’s market had plenty of options, including the new ‘Michael Pollen.’ These yellow, egg-shaped tomatoes have green stripes and are supposed to look a bit like ‘Green Zebra.’
This year, I only have space for seven tomato plants. So, I picked some old favorites, as well as a few new ones. I wanted different colors, sizes and tastes. And it was important the tomatoes matured at different times too. There’s no point in having them all ripen at the end of the growing season … just in time for an early frost. Here are the winners that will receive a spot in my garden … drumroll, please.
The Winning Tomatoes for 2010
‘Stupice’ – Have a short, cold growing season? Or, are you just impatient like I am? This heirloom (pronounced “stu-peek-a”) will please both of us. An import from the Czech Republic, the small red fruit ripen quickly, and taste great. 52 days from transplant.
‘Rosa de Berne’ - This Swiss heirloom has medium-sized, round, pink fruit with a sweet flavor, on very productive plants. 75 days from transplant.
‘San Marzano’ – I fell in love with this Italian heirloom last year, and here’s a picture from my garden. Grow this variety yourself and see why it is considered one of the world’s best for cooking and canning. Bright red fruit. 80 days from transplant.
‘Principe Borghese’ - One of my favorite late-summer traditions is to oven-dry tomatoes slowly with garlic and oregano from the garden. Then I freeze them, and eat dried tomatoes all winter. That’s why I had to grow this Italian heirloom that’s perfect for drying. Very meaty, small red plum tomatoes grow in clusters of 7-10 fruits. Perfect for bruschetta. 72 days from transplant.
‘Isis Candy’ - These yellow golden cherry tomatoes with red marbling are a long-time favorite. Tons of sweet fruit grow on productive plants all season. I often snack on a handful when gardening. 67 days from transplant.
‘Black Sea Man’ – This Russian heirloom delivers rich mahogany fruit with deep, reddish-green interiors. Full-bodied and intense in flavor, this tomato is great on sandwiches. Grows well in mid-sized containers. 75 days from transplant.
‘Basinga’ – A hard-to-find heirloom with yellow heartshaped fruit that have a red tinge on the blossom end. The sweet, tangy flavor is “mild but definitely not bland,” according to Seed Savers Exchange. 80 days from transplant.
More Heirlooms: If I had more room and a longer growing season, I would grow these favorites again too…
‘Black Krim’ – Medium-large maroom fruit with green shoulders and green gel around seeds. Naturally salty; ideal for slicing, salads and cooking. Suitable for containers and patio gardens. 80 days from transplant.
‘Brandywine’ – Large pink beefsteak with excellent old-fashioned flavor grow on prolific plants. A very popular variety. 90 days from transplant.
‘Cherokee Purple’ – Originally grown by Cherokee Indians, this heirloom is more than 100 years old. Dusty rose-colored fruit with a complex, somewhat smoky flavor. The variety has better disease resistance than many heirlooms. Tolerates hot temperatures. 80 days from transplant.
‘Green Zebra’ – Yellowish green-striped, tennis-ball-sized fruit that wins fans (including us!) for its tangy, well-balanced taste. This open-pollinated cultivar was developed from four heirloom varieties. Tolerates cool, foggy conditions, and performed great when we lived on the California coast. 75 days from transplant.
‘Hillbilly’ – This heirloom hails from the hills of West Virginia in the 1880s. Huge, heavily ribbed, orange-yellow fruit is streaked with red. When cut, the pretty fruit makes a starburst patter. Low acid. Terrific taste. I’d grow it more often, if it didn’t need 85 days from transplant.
Want more? Six tomatoes for cooking and preserving.