By Barbara Kline ©2015
Co-founder of GrowPittsburgh
Penn State Master Gardener
Now that our first frost has come and gone, it’s time to look at how vegetables have performed in our gardens this season. My passion and expertise is in growing heirloom tomatoes, which have survived the test of time and have flavor that puts the taste of super market tomatoes to shame. They come in almost every color of the rainbow, with subtle variations in color, texture, size, shape and flavors.
With the increased interest in heirlooms, you’ll find a large selection of seedlings at local nurseries in the spring. But for the broadest range of choices, head to the seed catalogs in January and grow your own. Each year, I plant several varieties that I haven’t grown before to find new favorites.
Heirloom tomatoes shown above include Sweetie, Red Pear, Black Cherry, Orange Banana, Indigo Apple, Paul Robeson, Green Zebra, Pink Accordion, Ruby Gold, Cosmonaut Volkov and Rutgers.
Heirloom tomatoes range in size from quarter-inch cherries to 1- or 2-pound beefsteaks. The smaller the fruit size, the more prodigious the harvest. Some cherry tomatoes can yield hundreds of fruits while larger beefsteak varieties will produce a dozen or less. To maximize your harvest, focus on mid-sized tomatoes, then round out your selections with cherry and beefsteak varieties.
‘Cosmonaut Volkov’: An early (65 days to harvest), consistent producer even in a cool summer; few blemishes. The 8- to 12-ounce flattened red globes have a rich, full-bodied flavor that is great for that first tomato sandwich. It was named by Igor Maslov, a Russian space engineer, for his friend, Vladislow Volkov, a cosmonaut who died when his spaceship crashed.
‘Pink Accordion’: One the few pinks I have found with wonderful flavor. It has semi-hollow fruit suitable for stuffing, and its stunning ruffled accordion look when sliced adds art to a plate of tomatoes.
‘Ruby Gold’: A beefsteak tomato with pale yellow flesh streaked with red. Meaty, with a mild sweetness and little to no acidity.
‘Golden Jubilee’: This medium-sized 8-ounce orange is meaty, sweet and usually blemish-free. This All America Selections winner from 1943 is a cross between ‘Tangerine’ and ‘Rutgers.’
‘Japanese Black Trifele’ – A black tomato the size and shape of a Bartlett pear. Despite its name, it’s a Russian heirloom with a rich, subtle smoky flavor. Few blemishes and a good producer.
‘Tasty Evergreen’: Introduced in 1956 by Glecklers Seedmen of Metamora, Ohio, this medium-sized beefsteak is a prolific producer of fruit that is sweet but not too sweet. It’s ripe when the outer skin turns yellow but the inside remains a brilliant green. Some have pink striping at the blossom end.
‘Cream Sausage’: The first white tomato, a paste type, with a surprising flavor. It is white to pale yellow when ripe and adds color to homemade salsa.
Fedco: A grower’s co-op. Excellent prices. Honest descriptions.
Baker Creek: All heirlooms.
Seed Savers: A great organization devoted to preserving heirloom seeds.
High Mowing: High-quality seeds; free shipping last season.
Johnny’s: A good source of newer hybrids.