2014 Garden Plans: Bed 2 – Heirloom Tomatoes

Our second subcommittee meeting was the Tomato Garden, which this year is officially the Heirloom Tomato Garden. Heirlooms are always fun, but can be pretty finicky, so I hope we have  good tomato growing year but an average summer where we can really see the differences between the varieties for growing in Kansas. In 2011 we grew some heirlooms and got almost nothing due to the weather. (And no one else got anything either, heirloom or not!) Last year, we grew a couple of heirlooms, and they were almost the best varieties we grew. But last year was much cooler in the middle of the summer.

Bed 2 (2)We are going to be using tomato cages again this year, because with the width of the beds, that makes the most sense. As you can also see, the other half of the arbor from Bed 1 is on the end of this bed.

‘Large Red Cherry’ is a variety from Seed Savers that is exactly what it says. It has 1 1/2″ to 2″ red cherry tomatoes, so slightly larger than some cherry tomatoes.

Across from the arbor, (the orange circle) we will be planting a single plant of a dwarf/determinate heirloom, ‘Silvery Fir Tree.’ This variety has fine, silvery grey, fuzzy foliage and 2-4 oz red tomatoes. It is also early, at 55 or so days to maturity.

All of the other five varieties we will plant two plants of each. We probably could have fit a couple more plants in, but given the typical growth habit of heirlooms, I wanted to be sure they had plenty of space. Here’s a little information about each of those varieties.

‘Opalka’ is a Polish paste tomato with fruit that is 5″ long and shaped kind of like a bullnose pepper. I’ve seen this variety with gold streaks, but I think it is usually just red. 80 days.

‘Black Krim’ is one of the varieties we tried in 2011. It is a purple/black fruited tomato from Russia that is a typical slicer size at 8-12 oz. 75 days.

‘Amana Orange’ is a orange colored beefsteak from the Amana colonies in Iowa. It is up to 5″ in diameter and can be up to 2 lbs. 80 days.

‘Pink Russian 117’ is a pink/rose colored oxheart shaped tomato. The fruit are typically in the 10-14 oz. range. 90 days.

‘Northern Lights’ is a yellow/orange tomato with a red blush on the bottom and in the center. The beefsteak fruits are 4″ across and about 1 lb. 55 days.

As you can see, most of these varieties are in the 80 day range, with a couple outliers. That means that in the event of a long, hot spell in the middle of summer before they have the chance to set fruit, we could be in trouble. 80 days is 11 weeks and 3 days after our projected planting date of May 6th, which is July 25th, the day before Tomato Day. Of course, those days to maturity observations are notoriously unreliable. We’ll just have to wait and see!

The two that I’m going to be particularly interested to observe are the ‘Silvery Fir Tree’ and ‘Northern Lights,’ both of which list the days to maturity as 55 days. That is very early for any tomato, and usually those super early varieties are small (2-4 oz), like the ‘Silvery Fir Tree.’ This makes ‘Northern Lights’ a large tomato for that kind of earliness! To be fair, in looking at different catalogs/websites, I see 55 days, 60 days, 65 days, and 75 days all listed for it. I’ll have to keep close record of that one to see what it actually is here. (That would be 8 weeks, 8.5 weeks, 9.2 weeks, and 10.7 weeks. Big difference!)

The other concern with these two super early heirlooms is whether they will tolerate the heat. They were most likely developed to deal with short growing seasons and cooler summers in more northerly areas, so will they shut down due to heat earlier than others? In my mind, the perfect tomato for Kansas would be both early and heat tolerant, so that is something we will be keeping an eye on this summer.

Have you tried any of these varieties? I’ll admit that I’m getting hungry for tomatoes already!


About Rebecca

I'm a Horticulture Educator with Sedgwick County Extension, a branch of K-State Research and Extension, located in Wichita, KS. I teach about fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Posted on January 17, 2014, in Garden Planning, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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