Heirloom tomatoes are different from the tomatoes you usually find in the supermarket. They are old-fashioned varieties that had fallen out of favor, or nearly disappeared, since the introduction of hybrid tomatoes that might look more uniform and ship more easily. But there is a whole world of unusual tomato varieties that some special seed companies offer to those who are interested in growing and conserving these special vegetables. Heirloom tomatoes are just as easy to grow as hybrids, they just are less durable commercially. You can try one along with your other favorite tomato varieties.
Choosing Heirloom Tomatoes
Research your particular climate zone to determine whether you should purchase an early fruiting heirloom tomato variety or one that ripens later in the summer or fall. If your growing season is short, you'll do best with an early variety such as Stupice, a Czechoslovakian variety. On the other hand, Brandywine, which is a large beefsteak tomato, takes longer to form fruit and ripen, and is more appropriate for areas that have long, hot summers and no frost until late October. See Resources below for information about climate zones.
Decide whether your garden space has room for an indeterminate heirloom tomato or if you should choose a determinate type. Indeterminate varieties keep growing and growing, sending out trailing branches that you need to stake and that can spread over a large area. Determinate tomatoes stop growing when they reach a certain size, so they are more compact and better suited to smaller gardens, patios and balconies. Examples of some heirloom tomatoes that are determinate are Silvery Fir and Skorospelka Red.
Determine whether you prefer a small cherry-type tomato or a larger variety such as beefsteak. Cherry tomatoes such as Big Rainbow and Sungold are good additions to salads, while the very large Brandywine and Black Krim are excellent for sandwiches and hamburgers.
Visit Web sites that specialize in heirloom vegetables (see Resources). If your local garden center carries unusual and heirloom plants in starter packs, you might be able to find an heirloom tomato that suits your needs without needing to order seeds and start them yourself. However, seed starting is not difficult and when you start your own you will have a much greater number of varieties from which to choose than if you seek heirloom tomatoes that are available in pony packs at nurseries.