Gardens in New Jersey offer great locations for growing heirloom tomatoes. The warm summer days and cool nights provide perfect conditions for growing and enjoying some of the tastiest tomatoes imaginable. Requiring no special care than other tomato plants, heirlooms offer unique shapes, exquisite flavor and beautiful color, ideal for eating fresh or in a variety of cooked dishes.
Heirloom tomatoes come from the seeds of nonhybrid tomato cultivars. The seeds get handed down from generation to generation. Opinion varies as to how old a tomato cultivar must be in order to qualify as an heirloom tomato. But most people agree that if the seeds became available in 1945 or earlier, the tomato counts as an heirloom variety. Each heirloom tomato brings with it a unique history, such as the Brandywine tomato, reputed to come from Amish origins, or the Cherokee purple, provided by Cherokee Indians more than 100 years ago.
Available in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and flavors, a wealth of heirloom tomatoes give gardeners plenty of choices. One of the most popular heirlooms, Brandywine, produces large pink tomatoes with excellent flavor; fruits mature within 80 days of planting. When it comes to yellow tomatoes, big rainbow and hillbilly offer sweet-flavored flesh, maturing in 75 to 85 days from planting. Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes feature almost black skin, maturing in 80 days from planting.
Heirloom tomatoes get planted from seeds. One of the best ways to get seeds started involves planting them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last anticipated frost. Otherwise, planting seeds outdoors produces limited yields. Once the seedlings show a second set of leaves, it's time to transplant them into the garden in an area that receives 7 or more hours of sunlight per day. The plants also thrive in soil rich in organic matter, so adding compost to the soil may be necessary. Water the newly transplanted plants thoroughly every day for a week.
Tomatoes require support to grow upright while their branches begin to bear fruit. Wooden stakes or metal cages work well. To avoid hurting the tender plants, string or old pantyhose cut into strips work well for tying the plants to the support system.
The plants require regular watering once they become established. Some gardeners fertilize the plants to encourage growth. In about 45 to 90 days, fruit should begin appearing on the plants, maturing 1 to 2 months later.
Tomato hornworms often appear on the plants. These fat, green worms eat the leaves of the plant and sometimes nibble the green fruit. The best way to remove hornworms requires picking them off the plant and disposing of them.