The popularity of heirloom tomatoes just keeps growing every year, as more and more people discover their wonderful flavors and taste. The taste of a heirloom tomato is why food shoppers don’t mind paying more – often a lot more – at markets and farm stands.
There is just no comparison between heirlooms and hybrid “supermarket” tomatoes when it comes to flavor. Even the colors have eye appeal as well, in blacks, greens, reds, pinks, and yellows, with even more variations from streaks, stripes or unique shapes.
Most gardeners who are growing for market agree that heirloom tomatoes offer the best of both worlds, with customer pleasing taste and high profits. The demand can be so great, growers have had to ration the number of tomatoes each customer can buy, so everyone can get at least a few!
If you’re thinking about growing heirloom tomatoes, try for a good mix of colors and ripening times, such as early varieties to sell at the start of the season, mid-season varieties for the peak of summer and late-season varieties to extend sales into the fall. A simple hoop house can extend the season even further, often by a month on either end of the growing season.
With hundreds of varieties to choose from, where do you start? Every grower has their favorites, and local microclimates play a big part as well. Here are 6 crowd-pleasers that cover the tomato color spectrum and have made money for growers for many years:
- 1. Black From Tula. A mid-season black variety from Russia that produces a heavy crop of large, mouth-watering rich-flavored tomatoes. Not truly black, but a purple-mahogany fruit that is great for sampling at the market. Matures in 75 days.
- 2. Costoluto Genovese. Stunning to look at, with a deeply fluted, bright red skin. This is an old Italian favorite that has been grown for over 200 years – even Thomas Jefferson grew this variety. It has a full-flavored meaty taste, for a hearty pasta sauce. A mid-season variety, maturing in 75 days.
- 3. Green Zebra. Named for it’s green zebra-like stripes on an amber gold background. The mature 2-inch fruit has a bright green flesh and a tangy, sweet flavor that made it a favorite of famed chef Alice Waters, who serves this variety at her restaurant, Chez Panisse. 72 days to maturity.
- 4. Stupice. Get your tomato selling season off to an early start with this proven variety, maturing in just 52 days. Stupice tastes great and does well in cold or hot weather, producing an abundance of 3 to 4-ounce bright red fruit. Cooler fall weather brings out the sweetness in Stupice even more.
- 5. Brandywine. This outstanding heirloom variety is a consistent best-seller and winner of countless tasting competitions. It’s easy to grow, disease resistant and produces big one-pound fruits. Brandywine’s roots go back over 100 years to Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania. Matures in about 90 days.
- 6. Amy’s Sugar Gem. This very early cherry tomato produces huge clusters of golf ball-sized fruit with a rich, sweet taste. Ready to pick in just 65 days, and a popular seller at the market.
These six varieties will provide a great introduction into the tasty and profitable world of heirloom tomatoes. All six combine delightful flavor, produce substantial yields and are customer favorites at farmers markets around the country. Seeds are available at www.tomatofest.com
You’ll find dozens of additional grower-tested heirloom varieties – 40 in all – in Profitable Heirloom Tomatoes, as well as growing secrets and resources for new and seasoned market growers.