How to Grow The Best Heirloom Tomatoes

What are Heirloom Tomato’s?

To know how to grow the best heirloom tomatoes, then you probably want to know what heirloom tomatoes are in the first place. Heirloom tomatoes are a tomato variety that have meet specific qualifications to be considered heirloom. An heirloom is a variety that through its seed has been passed down for at least 50 years. It also must be open pollinated. Open pollination basically means that the plant can be pollinated naturally; by bugs, animals, and even the wind. It can’t be genetically modified or a bred hybrid variety. Hybrids, if they produce seed, do not open pollinate. That means you won’t get the same hybrid tomato if you grow the hybrid seeds.

Where to get Heirloom Tomato’s?

There are two ways in which you can get heirloom tomato plants. You can either find them at a local plant sale or garden center (many carry heirloom variety’s), or you can buy heirloom tomato seeds online. My favorite places to buy seed from are these online retailers: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Anne’s Heirloom Seeds, Renee’s Garden, Botanical Interests, Seed Savers Exchange, and Wild Boar Farms.

How to Start Tomato’s from Seed

Before I briefly explain this I’m going share why I’m not going into a ton of detail on this section. First, starting heirloom tomatoes from seed isn’t necessarily simple. It isn’t just putting seeds in some soil. There’s much more you can learn and I will be writing posts on this in the future. So stay tuned!

To start heirloom tomatoes form seed you will need some seeds. You’re probably thinking “Ahem, duhhhh”! I know, I just had to say it though haha 🙂 You will also need a good seed soil mix. Get small pots and sow the seeds according to the packet. Then water the seeds regularly to make sure the seeds don’t dry out. Once the seeds have germinated (sprouted), water them when the soil starts to look dry. Keep them in the sun for as long as possible during the day. Plant seed starts out once there is no more signs of frost!

There you go! A super simple how-to start heirloom tomatoes from seed.

How to Prune Tomato’s

Now to my favorite part of this post!!! The Pruning 🙂 This was the biggest tip that completely changed how I would grow heirloom tomatoes.

Before we jump in, its beneficial to understand why tomato plants need to be pruned. Indeterminate heirloom tomatoes grow from one main stalk or vine, but not naturally. The plant NEEDS to be pruned to prevent it from bushing out and then having excessive foliage growth and less flavorful fruit over time. I say over time because every time you prune you are removing the possibility of new growth from that stalk, but in turn you end up allowing the central vine to carry the load of the fruit and move nutrients directly to the fruit more quickly. This also encourages a more flavorful fruit because there is less fruit on the entire plant at one time.

  • First, to prune the tomato plant you need to understand the body of an indeterminate tomato plant. Again, the fruit and leaves stem off from one main stalk or the vine. This vine shoots out little leaf stems and fruit stems. Every time it shoots a leaf stem there is always a second shoot that grows upwards in between the two (the vine and the stem). This third shoot is called a sucker, and if you let it go it will basically grow a second “vine” (or splitting the vine).
    • Be careful not to “top” the plant off. This means cutting the top of the plant right off. If you do this you will stop the main vine from growing and it will never be able to grow upwards any further.
  • Once you have identified the sucker – earlier the better – snip it off with a pair of clean and sanitized garden pruners, or what I do, washed thumb and index finger. (Don’t do what I do haha, just go ahead and invest in some good pruners. This will help ensure you aren’t spreading disease to your tomato plants from potentially unclean hands.
  • Check your tomato plants two to three times a week for suckers. The longer you wait to prune these off the harder it is for the tomato plant to heal from the “wound”. Letting the sucker to grow to be more than about six inches and pruning it is kinda like you having to go through surgery. It takes more energy and a lot longer to heal from surgery than it would be to, lets say, pop a pimple… I know my analogies are silly, but you get the point.

Long story short, my simple steps for pruning heirloom tomato plants are:

  1. Identify (look for the middle shoot)
  2. Prune (prune off new suckers)
  3. Check (check daily for new suckers)

How to Trellis Heirloom Tomato’s for Maximum Flavor

Why trellis? Trellising your tomatoes helps them to not catch the plethora of diseases and fungus that are lurking in the dirt. The roots are far more able to protect the plant from disease than the leaves are. You also make it much much easier to find the fruit and harvest it because it is easy to see when the plant is growing upwards rather than across the ground.

Tomato plants do not naturally grow upwards. Tomatoes if left alone, crawl along the ground and try to shoot more roots into the ground as they grow. The plants then don’t NEED to grow fruit to produce a seed because they are already spreading via the ground. So they need to be supported to produce fruit.

To sum this up, trellising your tomato plants is the best way to grow them.

  1. First, plant indeterminate tomatoes under a tall trellis. Indeterminate means that if you don’t “top” or cut the main vine off, it will keep growing as far as you let it! So, give the plants Plenty of room to grow as tall as they want.
  2. Next, after you transplant your tomatoes, let the tomatoes grow until they begin to lean slightly. This happens at about 2-4 weeks after transplanting outside. If your tomato plants cannot yet reach your trellis, follow steps 3 and 4, if not, skip ahead to step 5.
  3. Once the tomatoes start to lean, take a long strand of twine (long enough to tie tomato plant to trellis) and tie a loop around the main vine with about two fingers worth of space in between the loophole and the vine. (You must do this because if you tie it tight around the vine it could restrict the vines growth and constrain the water and nutrient absorption).
  4. Next, tie the twine to the trellis using a quick release knot. This makes it easy to adjust the twine support when needed.
  5. Once tomato plants have reached the trellis (or are about 6 inches above the trellis) start weaving the vine through the trellis to encourage the plants to continue to grow upwards with support.
  6. As the vine grows, continue to weave the plant through the trellis.

Companion Planting for Heirloom Tomatoes

Companion planting is when you plant other plants (flowers, vegetables and fruits) next to tomato plants to encourage tomato flavor and growth. There is not much research that backs this up, but companion planting can help to deter the unhealthy growth of the plant. What this means is companions plants don’t make the tomatoes more flavorful in any way, but the plants can be used as trap crops, and to help avoid what I like to call the tomato plant adversaries.

What do you mean by adversaries?? Well there are certain plants that if planted next to tomato plants can actually stunt the tomato plant’s growth. This is because they need the same nutrients and so the adversaries will steal all of the nutrients before the tomato plant can absorb them. The tomato plant adversaries are cabbage, Brussels sprouts, dill, corn, kohlrabi, collards, potatoes, and eggplant.

Fertilizing Heirloom Tomatoes

Fertilization really starts before you even plant the tomatoes (in the soil), but you can continue to fertilize the plants as they are growing. The best way to fertilize the tomato plants is by adding compost periodically through the season. There’s no limit to the amount of times you add compost, just don’t go overboard and bury the plant haha! You can also use fish emulsions to give the tomato plant an extra boost of nutrients. Don’t worry, this won’t make the tomatoes taste like fish!! Fish emulsion is what is left behind from the manufacturing process of fish oils and fish meal. This fish pulp has tons of natural occurring nutrients and micro nutrients that are amazing for tomato plants and will help you to have more flavorful fruit because the plant is being properly fed! I’ll list my favorite organic fish emulsion fertilizer here!!

Note about organic gardening

This post is about heirloom tomato plants, not organic gardening. But I thought I’d tip my hat to the importance of gardening organically with heirloom tomatoes.

For heirlooms to be here today, all of the varieties were grown at some point organically (without the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or any other unnatural chemical’s). These varieties not only “survived” they thrived in that organic environment! Organic gardening isn’t some new method or fad, its how the world was designed to sustain plant life from the beginning. That doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult or that you won’t run into a lot of problems that could’ve been prevented by our modern industrialized growing methods. But you are limiting the problem of poisoning yourself and others around you. I’ve found in growing my heirloom tomatoes that the care you put in to have a more flavorful tomato, is what you need to do to care for the plant and keep it from pests and disease. If I could give you my biggest piece of advice, it would be for you is to grow your tomatoes organically!!!

Tricks that Will Help You to have Amazing Tomato Flavor!

Leave them high and dry

Once your fruit begins to ripen, hold off on watering them consistently and wait a couple days to let the plant dry out. This will decrease the water level, but, it will also ensure that your fruit isn’t watery tasting either. See, if you watered your plants in the morning and then about an hour later came back and picked the fruit, the tomatoes would have absorbed all the water that you fed them, thus decreasing their flavor. Make sure to check your local weather. You wouldn’t want to plan for a stretch to dry them (no more than 4 days) and then have it interrupted by unexpected rain.

Harvest in the heat

Pick your tomato fruits in the middle of the day while the sun is shining bright and hot. What this does is it warms the tomatoes and decreases the amount of water that is in the overall plant. It also then increases the sugar content within the fruit, which makes it all the more rich and flavorful.

Keep them on display

Once you have harvested the fruit, make sure to keep them on you counter and do NOT put them in the fridge. When you put tomatoes in the fridge they actually can get what is called a chilling injury. This happens when the fruit is abruptly moved to a colder temperature and the cold disrupts the fruits natural ripening process. This makes the flesh almost gritty or mealy. It also inhibits the fruits ability to maintain even temperature and can then cause it to decay or mold before it even fully ripens. On top of all of that, it kills the flavor because the fruits thin skins absorb the stale moisture from the air and the cold temps stop the production of natural sugars in the seed gel. All in all, if you want to ruin the fruit you worked so hard for, put them in the fridge 😉

I hope this post helped you in your gardening journey and your tomato growing dreams!! Comment down below if you have any questions or if you would like to see more posts like this.

Sois béni,


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