The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Best heirloom tomato varieties

Japanese black trifeleFive years ago, I went hog-wild and started about 35 different types of tomatoes.  Every year since then, I've been whittling our selection down to the varieties that taste the best, produce the most, and are least blight-prone.  Here are the eight varieties we'll be growing in 2011:

  • Martino's roma --- delicious and a copious fruiter.  Was more resistant to the blight than our other roma varieties (San Rodorta and Russian), partly because the vine is a bit less vigorous.
  • Yellow roma --- mixes with Martino's roma to make a very unique sauce.  The vine grows like crazy, so it has to be pruned a lot, and the fruits do tend to crack on top, so they require a bit more preparation than Martino's roma.
  • Ken's red --- an un-named but delicious big, red slicing tomato that we got from my friend Ken.
  • Japanese black trifele --- this was given to me as "Brandywine", but the fruits are shaped like a drop of water and a search of the internet suggests my tomato is actually Japanese black trifele.  Purple slicing tomato with great taste, although you have to cut off a woody top part.
  • Blondkopfchen --- extremely productive, small yellow tommy-toe.
  • Seed packetsStupice --- red slicing tomato that's just a bit larger than the biggest tommy-toes.  Our earliest tomato to ripen, listed at 52 days.
  • Early Pick --- another red slicing tomato that's very early.
  • Crazy --- large, red tommy-toe that produces nearly as early as Stupice.  Somewhat blight resistant.

We grow one plant each of the last six varieties for eating in the summer and about twenty-five romas to keep us in spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, ketchup, and dried tomatoes all year.  I had actually forgotten which tomato varieties I wanted to focus on this year, so I was very glad I'd made notes on my seed-packets when I packaged up the summer's seeds!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Do you have any cherry tomato varieties you can recommend? As usual, this year I will probably just grow whatever there is extra of at work, and I only have space to grow three plants. That said, cherries are my favorite size of tomato; during peak season, I typically grab a handful fresh off the vine on my way to work to have as breakfast.
Comment by Edward Antrobus Sun Apr 10 09:30:45 2011
We grow two cherry tomatoes (what I call tommy-toes) --- Crazy is about an inch and a half in diameter (big) and red and Blondkopfchen is about half an inch in diameter (small) and yellow. I can recommend both, but I should add that soil type has a big effect on flavor, so who knows what they'd taste like for you! Also, they do great in my climate, but the reason I tried so many heirlooms is because certain ones do better in different areas, so I can't vouch for Crazy and Blondkopfchen everywhere. Still, they're a good place to start!
Comment by anna Sun Apr 10 10:14:14 2011

I'd never heard of that name for cherry tomatoes.

Unfortunately, the Colorado Front Range is not an ideal climate for growing tomatoes by any stretch of the imagination. Getting recommendations from someone in SW Virginia probably isn't any better or worse than from any other part of the country.

Comment by Edward Antrobus Sun Apr 10 22:32:52 2011

You got me intrigued about where the term "tommy-toe" came from. Searching the internet suggests that I may be the only person to use it as a generic term meaning cherry tomato --- I got that description from my mom, who got it from who knows where! There is a variety of cherry tomato known as Tommy Toe, so perhaps some people (like me) use it the same way we use Xerox. I guess I'd better shape up! :-)

I was also intrigued to see that "tom-toe" is an old term for the big toe, so "tommy-toe" is probably a reference to a tomato about the size of the big toe.

I don't know anything about your climate, but it sounds like the challenge would be a short growing season. In that case, I might add Stupice to your list of tomatoes to try --- it ripens even earlier than our cherry tomatoes and has fruits midway in size between cherry and slicing tomatoes. Tasty too!

Comment by anna Mon Apr 11 08:20:41 2011
You aren't the only one to use the term "tommy-toe" for cherry tomato. Most everyone I know does that here in my part of Alabama. Maybe its a "southern thing"??? Love your blog!
Comment by Tisha Thu May 5 22:12:14 2011
Tisha --- thanks so much for chiming in! I was starting to think I was crazy, and am very glad to hear I'm not the only one who calls them tommy-toes. You're probably right that it's a southern thing.
Comment by anna Fri May 6 12:13:22 2011
Yes, my mom (born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina calls the little yellow tomatoes Tommy Toes =) They are so good, picked right off the plant. Love them!
Comment by Heather Mon Apr 16 13:50:59 2012
Heather --- I'll bet you're right. Or maybe it's a southern mountain thing since we live in the mountains of southwest Virginia?
Comment by anna Mon Apr 16 16:16:59 2012
I'm from the western half (mountains) of North Carolina and EVERYBODY calls the tiny little red sweet wild cherry 'maters Tommy Toes. Now not just every kinda cherry mater comin' and goin' is a Tommy Toe tho', ONLY the super sweet, roughly half inch diameter blood red heirloom cherry maters like your grandma and grandpa would've had growing down around the old sink drain or near the old compost pile would actually be a TRUE Tommy Toe. They're getting a little hard to find and I was super excited to happen across a plant at my cousin's during 'lasse making this year and I snagged me a handful of 'em to make dang sure I got plenty of seed for next year and for future plantings. There's no mater on this planet as sweet as a true Tommy Toe, they've absolutely got a taste all their own. They're truly a mater fit for kings.
Comment by Duane Tallent Sun Oct 30 06:35:52 2016

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