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Growing tasty tomatoes

Growing tomatoes in my home garden has become a hobby and a study in varieties. Several years ago, I became interested in heirloom tomatoes. I was craving the tasty tomato flavor remembered from childhood. For the homeowner, heirloom varieties provide a flavorful alternative to the standard garden tomato.

According to Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables, a tomato must meet three criteria to be considered an heirloom variety: the variety must grow “true to type” from seed saved from each fruit; seed must have been available for more than 50 years; and the tomato variety must have a history or folklore of its own.

Typically, heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. Indeterminate varieties can grow up to eight feet tall, have a sprawling habit and produce tomatoes all season long. Determinate varieties grow three to four feet tall and have a bushy growth habit. The catch is that all of the fruit ripen at once.

A word of caution, Heirloom tomatoes are not necessarily red. They come in every color imaginable. Red, yellow, purple and stripes are common within this group. The color combinations are impressive when used together in a salad or homemade salsa. Varieties that we have successfully grown in my garden are:

• Amish Paste — 8 oz. Red fruit; Great for canning and sauce making.

• Arkansas Traveler — 6 oz. Red fruit; creamy, mild flavor. This variety was discovered in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri.

• Black Krim — A black variety; fruit is a dusky purple with green shoulders. Sweet, spicy flavor.

• Brandywine — A favorite Amish heirloom that dates to the 1800s.

• Red Zebra — Red with yellow stripes. These add a unique color to dishes and salads as well as having a great full-bodied tomato flavor.

• Super Sioux — A very heat resistant variety that produces thick walled bright red fruit.

• Yellow Pear — Bright yellow pear shaped fruit. Excellent flavor, used in salads or eaten straight from the garden.

These suggested varieties are just a sampling of the hundreds of heirloom tomatoes available, many found in your local nurseries. I like to try something new every year. I hope you will add a few of these ‘old’ favorites to your garden. I guarantee them to be tasty, whether on a salad, in a salsa or a BLT. 

Rebecca Bates is an MSU Extension—Lincoln County agent, and can be reached at 601—835—3460 or by e—mail at rebecca.bates@msstate.edu.