With summer upon us, we’re dreaming about sweet, juicy heirlooms, one of the season’s most anticipated treasures. To find out what makes them so special, we talked to Tim Mountz, whose company Happy Cat Farm grows and sells the heirloom tomato seeds in our Agrarian collection. Read on for his best tips for planting, growing and enjoying them.
What makes an heirloom tomato “heirloom”? How is it different from conventional tomatoes?
There is no one definition of heirloom, but we use the 50-year and older rule of an open pollinated plant (non-hybrid).
Why should someone choose to grow heirloom varieties?
It is all about culinary superiority; flavor is the most important thing about heirlooms. It makes people laugh and talk about their grandparents and happy sunny days.
Are there any special tricks to growing them?
Good composted soil, lots of sunlight and about an inch of water per week — and a good dose of love — and everything will be wonderful.
What are the seeds one should someone plant if they want a variety of different kinds of heirlooms in their garden?
Always start with a cherry, a paste, and a slicer. You will have all of your bases covered, from fresh eating to sauce and everything in between.
What are your favorite kinds of heirloom tomatoes?
I really love black tomatoes; they are more dark purple than true black, but the flavors are so intense. They have vast, complex flavors from smoky to salty and such deep, concentrated essence — the true thinking man’s tomato.
What are some of the seasonal yields of different kinds of heirloom tomatoes?
Some plants do produce less fruit then hybrids, but the quality is of such greater standard that there is still no comparison. The cherries and currant will make so many tomatoes you will not know what to do. Some of the medium fruits and pastes will also produce mountains of wonderful fruits as well. The big fruits take a lot of time to produce, so production can be lower, but to pick a tomato that you have to use both hands for is something everyone should experience.
Can they be grown with the same supplies as non-heirloom tomatoes, or do you need any special equipment?
No special equipment needed.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy heirloom tomatoes?
I like walking through the fields in the late afternoon with friends and making them try all the different tomatoes (411 varietals last year), the golden sun twinkling through the trees at the far end of the field. The day starts to cool, the fields are full of laughter and everyone has tomato seeds all down the front of their shirts. Perfect.