Heirloom tomato varieties are those that have been passed down through generations. From gardeners hundreds of years ago, heirloom tomato seeds retain old-timey qualities that make them some of the most sought after tomatoes around. They also produce the flavor that you may have enjoyed as a child when you took a bite from a homegrown tomato from grandma’s garden.
So what are the best heirloom tomato varieties to grow in your home garden?
What are heirloom tomatoes?
Heirlooms are those tried and true tomato varieties that are full of flavor, packed with nutrients, stays true to parent plants, and are 100% organic (as long as you also keep them free from pesticides while growing). They’re also some of the only seeds that can be saved by gardeners and grown the next year to produce the same fruit type. Seeds saved from hybrid plants may produce fruit the next year that has different characteristics.
Heirlooms have generally been grown and saved for decades or centuries. For example, Brandywine tomatoes hearken all the way back to 1885 and are still one of the most popular tomatoes out there!
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Some seed companies, like True Leaf Market, only sell heirloom varieties. It’s like planting a piece of history! So, if you want to enjoy some of the vine-ripe flavors of yesteryear, plant any of these heirloom tomato varieties in your garden this spring.
Best Heirloom Tomatoes For Slicing
Not all tomatoes are built the same. Some are perfect for preserving, others for salads, and still more make the perfect tomato sandwich. So, which heirloom tomatoes are perfect for slicing? Check out these varieties:
- Ace 55-VF is a large red slicing tomato that is similar to a beefsteak tomato. It has thick walls, sweet flavor, and low acid. Great for eating but not for canning. It’s an indeterminate variety that will produce flavor-filled slicers all summer.
- Arkansas Traveler is great for slicing and easy to grow. It’s heat-tolerant, crack-resistant, disease-resistant, and has a pinkish cast on the outside of the tomato.
- Black Russian has a deep brown color and is not too sweet and not too acidic. This heirloom tomato has a unique smoky flavor that is great as a slicer or as part of a salad.
Best Small Heirloom Tomato Variety
Perfect for containers and hanging baskets, small tomato varieties are super fun to grow. These heirlooms produce bright, flavorful tomatoes that are perfect for all types of recipes and salads. They’re also great for garden snacking.
- Tumbling Tom Red is ideal for growing in a hanging basket. This attractive vining plant produces an abundance of small, round, red sweet tomatoes.
- Yellow Pear produces small yellow tomatoes shaped like pears. The plant is indeterminate and will produce a large vine that will need to be supported.
- Black Cherry tomatoes are small, round, and almost black. The sweet, unique black cherry tomatoes are produced all summer on a rambling vine that will reach 6-feet when mature.
Best Heirloom Tomatoes For Preserving
Looking to have tomatoes beyond the summer harvest? There tomato varieties are best suited for preserving for use later. This could be making tomatoes into paste and canning, canning whole tomatoes, or freezing for use later, these tomatoes fit the bill. (Never tried freezing tomatoes? Check out my tutorial for how to freeze tomatoes!)
- Amish Paste tomatoes are one of the best plum variety tomatoes for preserving as paste, sauce, or for dicing. Very few seeds, thick meaty flesh, and 8-inch long tomatoes make this a perfect choice for canning, freezing, or dehydrating.
- Bonny Best is an old canning tomato because of its meaty texture and perfect balance of tart and sweet.
- German Johnson, a favorite at our master gardener plant sale each year, has a sweet-tart flavor, skin that resists cracking, and very few seeds, making it an ideal choice for preserving. It also performs well in hot and humid areas.
Growing tips for heirlooms
Growing heirloom tomatoes is slightly different from growing hybrids, but they are well worth any additional effort you may encounter. Here are a few tips for success with heirloom tomato plants:
- Always water plants at soil level to avoid getting the plants wet and potentially creating an environment for fungi to grow on the plants.
- Heirlooms typically grow taller than hybrids and need to be supported. I prefer using a long pole as a support, but tomato cages are popular as is the florida weave method.
- Space heirlooms a little farther apart to allow for extra plant growth and to promote good air circulation.
- Prune often to keep the suckers from draining the plant’s energy. (See my post below for how to prune tomatoes.)
So, if you’re looking for that old-fashioned tomato taste from your childhood, consider growing heirloom varieties in your garden this year. You can save the seeds yourself to keep them going year after year! I’d love to know your favorite heirloom variety; comment below and let me know!