Today, we thought it would be fun to take you on a virtual stroll through our tomato fields and tell you a bit about how we grow our heirloom tomato varieties. We'd also like to share all the juicy details about some of our favorite varieties by describing their best features and hopefully enticing you to try something new when you stop by our market stand at the Sewickley Farmer's Market. Our Farm Share/CSA customers here in Pittsburgh will also find our heirloom tomato varieties on their list of weekly delivery choices from mid-summer well into the autumn.
How we select the heirloom tomatoes we grow
Here at the farm, we first focus our tomato-growing efforts on selecting the best varieties for our growing conditions. Since our humid summers often mean increased pressure from fungal diseases, we try to choose heirloom tomato varieties that are more resistant to diseases. But, we put our prime focus on selecting for fantastic flavor.
Unlike grocery store tomatoes which are chosen for their ability to be shipped long distances, to be artificially ripened, and to be of a consistent size, the heirloom tomatoes we grow are chosen because they taste phenomenal. Since all of our customers are located within 50 miles of our farm, there's no need to grow tomatoes that ship well, which means we can really hone in on providing our customers with a diversity of great-tasting tomatoes.
How we grow our heirloom tomatoes
All of our heirloom tomato varieties are grown right here in our fields, from seed until harvest. Tim and the crew start sowing our early tomato seeds in late winter. These first sowings end up in our high tunnel, where they're protected from the elements. The high tunnel plantings provide our first tomato harvests of the season, often weeks before our field tomatoes even come into flower.
They continue to sow more seeds every few weeks throughout the remainder of the late winter and early spring, providing us with a succession of young seedlings that can then be transplanted out into the fields when they're about 6 to 8 weeks old.
We take great care to keep our tomato plants up off the soil and away from soil-borne fungal diseases. We use a unique trellising system for our tomatoes growing in the high tunnel, and out in the fields, we rely on heavy-duty wire tomato cages to keep the plants upright. These wire cages are designed to make harvesting easy, with nice, large openings we can easily stick our arms through to pull out even the biggest beefsteak tomato.
Throughout the season, the plants are watched carefully for signs of diseases and pests, though we seldom have to treat for either. Since our plants are grown under the USDA Certified Organic standards and are healthy and naturally resistant to pathogens and pests, our heirloom tomato varieties are largely trouble-free.
Our favorite heirloom tomato varieties
Though each season we try to grow a different selection of heirloom tomatoes, we certainly have a list of favorites. Tim selects for a diversity of colors and fruit-sizes to please all of our customers, which means you'll find tomatoes in some pretty cool hues when you visit our market stand. Here are some of our top picks:
Carbon: A large, flavorful tomato that's won numerous awards. It's dark pink to purple in color with a complex flavor that can't be beat!
Taxi: This heirloom tomato variety produces tennis ball-sized tomatoes with thin, yellow skin. The fruits are consistently sized and early to mature.
Green Zebra: The zesty-tart flavor of this tomato is amazing. And, the green striped skin makes it extra unique. It's a real stand-out in mixed heirloom tomato salads.
Pruden's Purple: Each fruit of this heirloom weighs at least one pound! The dark pink skin wraps a bright red interior and the flavor is 100% classic tomato.
Jaune Flamme: With apricot-orange skin and a perfect orb shape, this heirloom tomato is the perfect blend of sweet and tart. No mealiness here!
Cosmonaut Volkov: This tomato is adored for its incredible, rich flavor. With a traditional red color and consistent fruit size, Cosmonaut Volkov is a farm favorite.
Moskavich: An early-season heirloom with a deep red color, this selection produces fist-sized fruits with a great flavor.
As you can see, we select and grow our heirloom tomato varieties with great care. We hope you'll give some of these stellar selections a try. They won't disappoint!
Oh, and in the spring, we also sell transplants of all the heirloom varieties we grow. That means you, too, can try growing an heirloom tomato plant in your home garden.
To enjoy our fresh-picked heirloom tomatoes, stop by the Sewickley Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9:00-1:00 throughout the growing season, or sign up for our Pittsburgh Farm Share program for a weekly delivery of all of our certified organic fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and herbs.
For more from the farm, check out the following blog posts:
- How we grow and harvest cherry tomatoes
- Succession planting plan for farmers and gardeners
- The importance of eating with the seasons
The Cherry Valley Organics Farm Family