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what are heirloom tomatoes

What Are Heirloom Tomatoes: 5 Things You Need to Know

With names like Brandywine, beefsteak, Roma, Cherokee purple, early girl, Jersey boy, and 1,000 more different varieties, tomatoes offer a world of possibilities for novice and seasoned gardeners alike. Despite all those elaborate names, tomatoes consist of two general kinds: hybrid and heirloom. But what are heirloom tomatoes, and what earns them that special status and higher price tag?

At A Garden Patch, we love tomatoes and gardening just as much as you do. That’s why we developed our GrowBox, which makes growing tomato plants fast, easy, and headache-free.

What Are Heirloom Tomatoes, and Why Are They So Special?

Compared to your average grocery store tomato, heirloom varieties are the crème de la crème, the upper crust, the elite, well, you get the idea. Agricultural companies develop regular tomatoes (also known as hybrid tomatoes) with the goal of profit over quality or flavor, prioritizing appearance, rapid growth, and pest resistance.

Heirlooms are different. The tomato must come from an original plant with seeds traceable back to 1951 or older (although many heirloom varieties are well over 100 years old). They also must be open-pollinated. Basically, that means that birds, bees, insects, or a strong gust of wind are the only source of pollination, with no unnatural intervention.

what are heirloom tomatoes

5 Important Facts About Heirloom Variety Tomato Plants

Ready to find out what the fuss is all about? Below are five interesting heirloom tomato facts you should know before growing these beauties.

1. There Are Four Main Types of Heirloom Tomatoes

Not all heirloom tomatoes are the same. Each variety falls under one of four categories:

  1. Family Heirlooms: This type of heirloom must grow from seeds that a family has passed down from generation to generation.
  2. Commercial Heirlooms: Open-pollinated, pre-1940 tomatoes or plants in circulation for at least 50 years are known as commercial heirlooms.
  3. Created Heirlooms: These consist of a cross between an heirloom/hybrid or heirloom/heirloom, which can take years to complete.
  4. Mystery Heirlooms: When heirloom varieties naturally cross-pollinate, the resulting plant is a mystery heirloom.

2. Heirloom Tomatoes Come in All Different Shapes, Sizes, and Colors

When you’re in the produce section at your local grocery store, any tomato that isn’t perfectly round and bright red is getting left behind. The average on-the-vine hybrid tomato is medium-sized, circular, with vibrant opaque red skin. On the contrary, heirloom tomatoes break the norm with their extraordinary personality and diversity. You won’t find an “average” look.

Instead, heirlooms come in every color of the rainbow and have unique shapes and sizes that run the gamut from small and round to gigantic and bulbous. Yellow-colored fruits offer a mild, lighter taste, whereas your greens and classic reds are tart and flavorful. Choose darker colors, like purple, if you’re in the mood for something savory.

3. Some Heirloom Varieties Are Trickier to Grow Than Hybrids

Remember, agricultural farms selectively breed their tomatoes to have certain characteristics. For example, they want a high pest or disease resistance, long shelf life, and thick skin. As heirlooms are open-pollinated and don’t have any genetic modifications, they lack the disease resistance and hardiness of hybrids — but boy, do they have incredible flavor! That being said, many gardeners find it difficult to grow a healthy crop of heirloom tomatoes that produce a decent yield.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about that when you use the Garden Patch GrowBox™. We designed the GrowBox with perfect spacing and automatic watering and fertilizing. There’s no more hassle or guesswork with your gardening. Just fill the GrowBox with potting mix, lay the Nutrient Patch on top, plant your heirlooms in the numbered spaces, and water them every few days.

We promise you’ll be amazed at how quickly you grow beautiful, healthy tomatoes! Don’t forget to add in Jobe’s Organic Fertilizer for that extra boost of nutrients (including dolomite) that tomatoes need for optimal growth and health.  

4. You Should Never Store Heirloom Tomatoes in the Fridge

Heirlooms don’t last as long as hybrids. Once you pluck an heirloom tomato off its vine, try to eat it or use it in a recipe as quickly as possible. Don’t wait too long to enjoy them, because you only have a couple of days before it’s too late. You might be thinking: “I’ll just pop it in the fridge so it lasts longer!” Unfortunately, that’s not going to work.

Exposing an heirloom tomato to cold temperatures actually causes it to break down faster. Make sure you store heirloom tomatoes on the counter instead of in the fridge. Or, you can always eat them right away and avoid the question of where and how to store your tomatoes!

5. Heirloom Variety Tomatoes Are More Expensive Than Regular Hybrids

In case you didn’t know, heirlooms fetch a much higher price than your run-of-the-mill supermarket tomato. But why? One reason is due to their hardiness, or lack thereof. Their softer and thinner skin bruises much more easily, particularly during transport. Shipping them costs more than your standard tomatoes because they require more packaging.

Another reason why they’re more expensive is because the only way to grow heirlooms is by hand-collecting their seeds, a laborious and time-consuming task. Finally, the plants don’t yield as big and plentiful of crops as regular or hybrid tomatoes, which also drives up the price.

what are heirloom tomatoes

Enjoy Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes with the Garden Patch GrowBox

So, what are heirloom tomatoes, and what makes them different from the tomatoes you see in the grocery store? An heirloom variety must be open-pollinated, with an original plant that’s traceable to over 50 years ago. They’re pricier and often harder to grow than hybrids.

With your secret weapon — the Garden Patch GrowBox — you’ll watch as a healthy crop of heirlooms sprouts up quicker than you thought possible.

Learn the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes and other important information. Then, order your GrowBox right on our website or by calling 800-519-1955 and get ready to enjoy gardening again!

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