Growing heirloom tomatoes for profit is quite easy and can be very profitable. Because heirloom tomatoes can be harvested in as little as 60 days after planting, it’s possible to produce an income in just a few weeks. If you are new to growing these tasty tomatoes, you probably have a few questions. Here are the most commonly asked questions about growing heirloom tomatoes for sale.
1. Why heirloom tomatoes?
Old-fashioned “heirloom” or “heritage” tomatoes are much better tasting than most bland supermarket tomatoes.They are also more colorful – with a rainbow of colors from oranges to greens to black and, of course, reds and pinks. As consumers re-discover these tomatoes from our past, demand is growing, and that means profits for those who know how to grow them and which varieties are best.
Unlike supermarket hybrid tomatoes that are bred to have a tough skin to hold up better in shipping, heirloom tomatoes have a tender skin and are almost always picked at their peak and sold to local consumers when they taste their best.
These gourmet heirloom tomatoes taste great, which is why they fetch such high prices – often two or three times the price of “commodity” tomatoes. As one new customer exclaimed after her first taste of a Brandywine variety, “ I never knew a tomato could taste this good!”
2. How do I get started growing heirloom tomatoes?
The first step is to decide how many plants you want to grow and order seeds. Next, test your soil to ensure it has the right nutrients to produce big, healthy tomatoes. Your local county extension agent can help with that, and the soil test results will tell you what nutrients you need to add.
Picking the right varieties for your local microclimate is very important, as tomato plants need to be matched to their growing area to ensure healthy plants and a large harvest. Seed suppliers list “days to maturity” to help growers pick a suitable variety. An early variety that is ready to harvest in 60-70 days makes sense if you live in a cold climate with a short growing season, while a variety that takes 90 days to produce a crop would be better suited to a warmer climate.
3. What is a “heirloom” tomato?
A heirloom tomato is an open-pollinated variety that has been passed on from generation to generation. Unlike hybrid varieties, heirloom tomato varieties, when seeds are planted, produce the same tomato as the parent plant. Many heirloom varieties have been grown and shared for hundreds of years, such as the Italian Costoluto Genovese.
4. What are the best tasting heirloom tomato varieties?
Everyone has their favorite varieties, but here are 8 that almost everyone agrees have exceptional taste and flavor.
- Brandywine. The classic heirloom tomato that wins most taste tests and is both a consumer and grower favorite. Popular since the late 1800s, it produces large red fruits.
- Super Snow White. This is a very large, very productive cherry tomato that bears clusters of pale yellow fruits with a delightful sweet flavor.
- Beam’s Yellow Pear. This variety produces lots of bite-sized pear-shaped fruits with a sweet flavor.
- Speckled Roman. A unique yellow-orange striped skin sets this variety apart and also makes it a great impulse seller at the Saturday market.
- Costoluto Genovese. This Italian heirloom has been popular forever – even Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello. The distinctive deeply-ribbed red fruits have a hearty flavor that makes it a perfect sauce tomato.
- Moskvich. A Russian heirloom that matures in just 60 days – perfect for northern growers.The red fruits have a subtle, rich flavor.
- Black Cherry. Yes, this variety actually produces an abundance of dark purple cherry-sized fruits. Tomato lovers describe the flavor as “complex.”
- Green Zebra. This variety always makes the top 10 lists, as the flavor of the golf-ball-sized fruits are exceptional. The fruit is golden with green stripes, and it is a consistent best-seller at the Saturday market.
5. Where can I sell heirloom tomatoes?
Selling direct to customers is the most profitable method for most small market growers, as you can eliminate the middleman and get full retail prices for your tomatoes. If your garden is in a suitable location, selling direct to local buyers is a simple way to get started. Farmers markets are another grower-to-consumer venue that makes even more sense if you have a sizable harvest, as most markets attract large numbers of shoppers.
6. What is the best way to increase tomato sales?
Give out free samples of your heirloom tomatoes – bite-sized slices to taste – so costumers can experience the wonderful range of tastes and flavors in different varieties. You can do this at the Saturday market or at a grocery store that sells your tomatoes.
7. How much growing area do I need?
Using the most productive varieties allows market growers to produce an abundance of heirloom tomatoes in a small growing area. For example, most commercial growers figure 6 to 10 square feet per plant, so even a backyard garden can produce tons of profitable tomatoes.
8. What if I can’t sell my tomatoes right away?
If you have a surplus of tomatoes or want to use your “cull” tomatoes that are less than perfect, there are several value-added products, such as sauces and sun-dried tomatoes that can be quite profitable.
9. Do I need a greenhouse to grow heirloom tomatoes?
You can start growing outside as long as your soil is suitable and fertile. Most tomato growers prefer growing in a greenhouse or hoop house, as the growing season is extended because of the warmer growing environment. Also, pests and diseases are much easier to control. With a high-value crop like heirloom tomatoes, many growers are able to pay for their hoop house in one growing season! An affordable hoop house can be built for as little as $2 a square foot.
10. How much does it cost to get started as a market grower?
If you have the growing space, you can get started with just a few hundred dollars for seeds, fertilizer and supplies and hand tools.
To discover more about this high value cash crop, read Profitable Heirloom Tomatoes.