Anyone who wants to grow profitable plants, but only has a limited amount of garden space should consider growing heirloom tomatoes for profit.These tasty treats bring premium prices, and harvest yields can be up to 3 pounds per square foot of growing area.
Nancy Lindstrom grows a dozen heirloom varieties in her small, but sunny 30’ by 40’ Oregon backyard garden. She starts seeds indoors under grow lights, then moves the transplants outdoors where they are grown with only organic fertilizers until harvest time.
Last year’s harvest yielded over 1,600 pounds of salable tomatoes, which brought an average of $4.50 a pound at the farmers market. The culled tomatoes, which had slight blemishes, were used to make 200 quarts of her locally famous marinara sauce, which sells out every year. Says Nancy, “I can’t imagine a more satisfying way to earn money doing what I love – gardening.”
Heirloom tomatoes can be harvested in as little as 60 days, and are full of the delicious flavors missing from supermarket tomatoes. That’s why customers, after tasting a sample slice of a heirloom, will pay those premium prices, which can be as much as double the price of “ordinary” tomatoes. In addition, researchers have found that organic tomatoes grown in a nutrient-rich soil are loaded with health-giving “phytonutrients.”
Nancy favors the Russian heirlooms, as they mature more quickly, a plus in her short-season climate. Two of her favorite varieties are Azoychka, a small yellow tomato from Russia that is ready for harvest in just 70 days, and Black Cherry, a purple-black variety with a rich, sweet flavor that originated in the Ukraine – ready to pick in just 65 days.
New tomato growers are finding a ready market for their heirloom crop, with plenty of customers at farmers markets and high-end restaurants where chefs appreciate the wonderful taste of these old-fashioned tomatoes. Many growers report having to “ration” sales so each customer gets a chance to take home a few of the popular varieties.
Nancy has a few tips for new growers: First, make sure to test your soil before planting to find any nutritional deficiencies that can be easily corrected with the proper organic fertilizer. Your local county extension agent can help you with this. This will help ensure your tomato plants will be healthy and disease resistant.
Second, add plenty of humus to the garden soil, in the form of compost. The humus will hold water, reducing the chance of water stress to the plants. Humus also helps protect against disease, as the microorganisms it contains can neutralize many plant pathogens. Finally, humus can help extend the growing season, as soil that contains humus warms up faster and stays warm later in the season.
Don’t be afraid to prune excess foliage so the plant’s energy goes into fruit production, not leaf production. Removing leaves frequently during the growing season allows air to circulate, which reduces the chance of plant disease caused by dampness.
Last, only water the tomato plants with drip irrigation, as it waters the roots only, helping the plant to put on growth rapidly. Keeping the foliage dry also helps keep diseases at bay.
There are customers in every community who are willing to pay premium prices for high quality, flavorful heirloom tomatoes. To get your share of the solid profits in heirloom tomatoes, as Nancy does, read Profitable Heirloom Tomatoes.