We’re starting a new blog series that will go into certain vegetable seeds that we offer, explore the different varieties, and talk about a few of our favorites!
This week we’re looking into one of America’s most popular vegetables… the TOMATO! Technically it is considered a fruit, but most refer to it as a vegetable. The reason for this is that it is scientifically considered a fruit by the way it grows, but is referred to as a vegetable because of the way it is used in cooking (in savory dishes as opposed to sweet dishes). The tomato is a very versatile and easy to grow vegetable, though it can be susceptible to a wide range of pests and diseases.
If you are planning to start your tomatoes from seed as opposed to purchasing seedlings from a nursery, you’ll want to get your seeds started indoors about 6-8 weeks before your zone’s last frost date. See our Spring Planting Guide for information about your zone and last frost date.
We always suggest starting your vegetables from seed when possible versus purchasing a transplant from a nursery or big box store. The reason for this is that the varieties of tomatoes you can start from seed are vast, while the selection of seedlings you can purchase from a nursery or big box store like Lowes, Home Depot or Walmart is fairly limited.
There are several things to consider when selecting a tomato variety to plant. What is their disease resistance? Are they determinate (grow and ripen their fruit all at once and then stop producing) or indeterminate (continue producing fruit and growing until they are killed by frost)? Heirloom or Hybrid? And finally, what are you looking to use them for and what are your requirements for flavor? Whether you love your tomatoes cooked, dried, canned or straight off the vine, keep all these questions in mind.
Be sure to leave your tomatoes on the vine as long as possible. If any fall off before they ripen completely, put them in a paper bag with their stems facing up and place the bag in a cool, dark place. Never put your tomatoes on a sunny windowsill with the intent of ripening them faster. This may cause them to actually rot before they are able to ripen. A ripe tomato is generally firm, slightly soft and rich in color. Never refrigerate fresh tomatoes, as doing so will spoil the flavor and texture.
We’ve selected a few of our most popular varieties to talk about in this post, but by no means are they all that we offer. Here at Pinetree we carry over 70 different varieties of tomatoes, heirloom and hybrid alike.
The Brandywine tomato is by far one of the most popular heirloom variety tomatoes to date. It is considered a “beefsteak” tomato, which means that one slice is large enough to cover the average hamburger patty. The flavor has been described as both sweet and tangy, which can be a delightful surprise considering its uneven, gnarly and misshapen appearance. It is a dark pink color and grows so large that it can split your tomato plant in half, so be sure to properly stake and support the plant. You may want to practice pruning the “suckers”, or side shoots, on the main stalk of the plant so that the original plant is not competing for nutrients with any offshoots.
The Brandywine first appears in a Burpee Seeds catalog in 1886. In 1982, the Seed Savers Exchange was given some Brandywine seeds by a farmer named Ben Quisenberry. Mr. Quisenberry claimed that he received the seeds from Dorris Sudduth Hill of Murfeesboro, Tennessee, whose family had been growing Brandywine tomatoes since the 1800s. If it had not been for the Sudduth Hill family, the Brandywine may well have died out, which is one of the main reasons that we still save and reuse seeds today.
The Early Girl is a highly praised hybrid that is known for its early ripening and smooth adaptation to a growing technique called dry-farming. Dry-farming is where the tomatoes are cut off from irrigation rather early in the growing season, causing the plant to stress and produce fruit that is very sweet and flavorful. The Early Girl was developed as a heavy producing tomato that could withstand cool climates and extreme temperature shifts. There are some that claim the flavor of the Early Girl rivals most heirloom varieties, and it has a strong following of avid supporters. The Early Girl is a globe shaped tomato, bright red in color and weighing an average of 8oz per fruit.
The Matt’s Wild Cherry tomato is originally from Mexico, where it grows wild. The seed was originally brought to Maine by Teresa Arellanos de Mena from her family in Hidalgo, Mexico, and given to a man named Dr. Matt Liebman (hence the name of the tomato). Being a wild plant by nature, the Matt’s Wild Cherry self-seeds very readily, so don’t be surprised to see additional seedlings shooting up at some point! It has a strong, sweet flavor and is wonderfully disease resistant. The fruits are a little bit larger than the size of a dime and are a bright red color. The soft, juicy fruits are great in salsa and for eating right off the vine.
The Sungold tomato is a bright orange fruit that is exceptionally sweet and therefore very appealing to children who would otherwise avoid tomatoes. It was originally developed by a seed company out of Japan called Tokita Seed Company and was brought to America in 1992. There is some speculation that the Brandywine tomato may be one of the parents of the Sungold, but it is not known for certain. The Sungold tomatoes remain firmer when ripe than most cherry tomatoes and are certainly sweeter. They are roughly about the size of a quarter, appearing quite early in the season and bearing throughout.
The story of the Mortgage Lifter heirloom tomato is fairly well known among gardeners. In the early 1930s, a man named Marshall Cletis Byles was facing the impending doom of the Great Depression, along with every other American. Byles wanted to develop a hearty breed of tomato that would be able to feed an entire family easily, so he spent 6 years crossbreeding 4 varieties of tomatoes. After perfecting the tomato we now know as the Mortgage Lifter, he began selling the seedlings at $1 a piece, which was a hefty sum to pay in the 1940s. The tomato was so popular that with the money he made from selling the seedlings, he was able to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in 6 years, hence the name.
The Mortgage Lifter is red and pink in color, averages about 2 to 4 pounds per fruit and is considered one of the most flavorful heirlooms on the market. They are disease resistant and abundant producers, bearing fruit all the way up until the first killing frost.
The Black Krim tomato originated in the Crimea region of the Black Sea, which is located in the Ukraine. Its color is just as its name indicates; dark purple, almost black, when grown in a hot climate. The hotter the climate, the darker the color will be. They can be fairly slow to germinate (sometimes taking up to a month), so be sure to give them plenty of time. When mature, the fruits can weigh up to 1 pound. The fruits can be prone to cracking, so be sure to keep up a consistent watering routine. They are great for both slicing and cooking, adding vibrant color to almost anything.
The Wapsipinicon Peach originated in 1890, initially called the White Peach by Elbert Carman. The later strain, named the Wapsipinicon Peach tomato, was named after the Wapsipinicon River in Iowa by a man named Dennis Schlicht. It has a sweet, spicy flavor with cream-yellow (almost white) skin that is slightly fuzzy like a peach. Its size is similar to that of a ping pong ball.
Below is a list of all the tomatoes we offer at the moment. Click the image to be directed to the tomato section of our website!