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2016 Hope Gardens Guide to Heirloom Tomato (and Chili Peppers!)


March 9, 2016 by Hope Gardens

Hope Gardens Guide to
Non-GMO, Non-Monsanto mostly Heirloom Tomatoes

Presently available heirloom tomatoes:
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
80 days. Indeterminate. One of the largest green beefsteaks. They have brilliant, neon-green flesh with a strong, sweet, and fruity flavor. This family heirloom from Germany was the winner of the 2003 Heirloom Garden Show’s taste test.
Barry’s Crazy Cherry
75 days. Indeterminate. This new variety has pale yellow cherries are delicious. Sweet fruits are oval, each with a tiny “beak” at the blossom end. The fruits keep well, and you can amaze your neighbors with the 40- to 60-fruit trusses on the large plants.
Berkeley Tie-Dye
65-75 days. Indeterminate. Compact plants produce beautiful 8-12 ounce fruit with a very sweet, rich, dark tomato flavor.  Because each of the fruit colors has a different flavor, you taste hints of spice, sweet, and tart. And you have to make the joke, that with the name ‘Berkeley Tie Dye’, these tomatoes must have a high acid content. We loved this tomato here at headquarters.
Big Rainbow
85 days. Indeterminate. Huge fruit and a sweet taste. Striking when sliced, this yellow/orange/red/green fruit borders on neon. An heirloom preserved by the Seed Savers Exchange.
Black Krim
69-80 days. Indeterminate. A “black” beefsteak tomato with medium to large fruits. Brown-red to purple-pink. Known for its complex but fantastic taste, not too sweet. From the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea. Water consistently to prevent cracking and green shoulders.
Black Plum
70 days. Indeterminate. Dainty little plum-shaped fruits, 2” long by 1” wide. Black/purple-skinned tomatoes show some green-shoulders, and have a complex flavor.
Black Sea Man
75 days. Determinate. A plum-shaped tomato that is brown-black with pink-purple shoulders. A Russian tomato, it has a rich, complex, creamy taste.
Black Zebra
75 days. Indeterminate. A beautiful mahogany/green tomato, 1.5”-3” fruits that are smoky, sweet and tart. Heavy producer on long vines. Great fresh tomato eating.
Bloody Butcher
54 days. Indeterminate. A potato-leaf plant with large yields of 2-4” deep red tomatoes. An early tomato with a rich flavor.
Boxcar Willie
80 days. Indeterminate. Abundant bright-orange, red slicing tomato. A New Jersey tomato named for the singer from the Grand Ole Opry.
80 to 100 days. Indeterminate. This is by far one of the best known heirloom tomato varieties. Reportedly it is an old Amish heirloom, dating back to 1885 and named after Brandywine Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The disease tolerant, potato-leaf plants yield fruits that are red, globe to oblate shaped, and full of flavor.
80 days. Indeterminate. This award-winning tomato is known for its rich flavors,  large, smooth purple fruits and productivity.
Cherokee Purple
80 days. Indeterminate. An old Cherokee Indian heirloom, pre-1890 variety, with beautiful deep dusky purple-pink color, superb sweet flavor, and very large sized fruit. Try this one for real old-time tomato flavor. My favorite “black” tomato.
75 days. Indeterminate. This heavily fluted, old Italian favorite was harvested from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello garden. Fruits are rather flattened and quite attractive with their deep ribbing. This variety is a standard in Italy for both fresh eating and preserving; known for its intensely flavorful, deep red flesh and medium-thick skin.
Djena Lee’s Golden Girl
75 days. Indeterminate. A large golden orange fruit with a semi-thick skin. This tomato was developed by Djena (pronounced “Zshena”) Lee in the 1920s. The tomato’s intense orange color is striking and the texture is very nice. It has an excellent balance of acid to sugar, giving it a sweet yet tangy flavor. The flavor of the Golden Girl was so highly prized that these tomatoes won first place at the Chicago Fair 10 years in a row.
German Johnson
80 days. Indeterminate. This tomato from West Virginia turns deep red-pink as it ripens on the vine. The tasty one-pound beefsteak-type tomatoes have a firm texture and few seeds, ideal for slicing fresh or canning.
Green Zebra
75 days. Indeterminate. Invented in Everett, Washington from 4 different heirlooms, this is a fairly new tomato but has become a standard for a green striped tomato. Described as chartreuse with deep lime-green stripes, it is a favorite of chefs. This 2” lemon-lime flavored tomato was Alice Walker’s favorite. Excellent yield.
Isis Candy
70-80 days. Indeterminate. This New Jersey tomato is getting a lot of buzz. And I think it deserves to perservere despite its unfortunate name. This superior quality fruit is marbled in red and with a cat’s-eye starbust on each blossom end. 1-1/2″ fruits are a silky blend of sugary sweetness and rich fruitiness. Heavy yields, with season-long production of short trusses, in double rows of 6 to 8 fruits each.
Jaune Flamme
70 days. Indeterminate. Apricot-orange fruits.  Extremely prolific French heirloom tomato that bears in clusters of 6, beautiful, 1 1/2-inch, 4 oz., round, golf-ball sized tomatoes that are persimmon-orange colored inside and out. In sauce or fresh – delicious!
Kellogg’s Breakfast
80-90 days. Indeterminate. 1 lb., pale to deep orange beefsteak tomatoes originally from West Virginia, that are thin-skinned, meaty, have few seeds and a fantastic rich, sweet, tangy flavor, good acid/sugar balance. Juice and inside flesh have the same bright orange color as orange juice.
Mr. Stripey
80 days. Indeterminate. This heirloom from the Mid-Atlantic states can be traced back to the 1800’s. Large, ridge-shouldered, 9 oz. to 2 lb. fruits are an unusual combination of orange-yellow mottled with red both inside and out. Smooth meaty flesh is mild-flavored and very low in acid.
Paul Robeson
80 days. Indeterminate. This tomato was named after the operatic artist who won acclaim as an advocate of equal rights advocate who stood up to the infamous McCarthy committee in the 1950’s and had his career nearly destroyed as a result. He was idolized in Russia as well as all around the world. This “black” beefsteak tomato is slightly flattened, round, and grows to 4-inches. Very flavorful fruits with luscious, earthy and exotic flavors and good acid/sweet balance.
80 days. Determinate. Good in hot, dry areas. The fruits are red, flattened-globe shaped, beautifully smooth skinned, average about seven ounces and has a good taste.
90 days. Indeterminate. Huge meaty tomatoes. The 1 pound red-and-yellow streaked tomatoes look beautiful and one taste will transport you back in time with that great old-fashioned, full bodied tomato flavor.
80 days. Indeterminate. Some say it’s the truest, some say it’s the prettiest, but maybe it’s just the most sincere yellow beefsteak tomato EVER. Hailing from Northern California, this tomato’s low acid and mild flavor is great for those with sensitive stomachs.
San Marzano
80 days. Indeterminate. I can’t even begin to tell you the whole history of this tomato. This famous paste tomato has a wonderful rich taste and produces loads of tomatoes late in the season.
Snow White
75 days. Indeterminate. A white cherry tomato with a sweet, fruity taste and fragrance. A large cherry tomato that keeps producing and bears clusters of pale yellow fruits that resist cracking and are known for their exceptionally sweet flavor.
60-65 days. Indeterminate. This potato-leaf heirloom from Czechoslovakia is a cold-tolerant tomato that bears an abundance of very sweet, flavorful 2 to 3-inch, deep red, slightly oval fruit. It has won awards for its wonderful sweet/acid, tomatoey flavor and production.
Yellow Pear
75 days. This pear tomato is a real overachiever! Loaded with hundreds of small 1-2 inch yellow pear-shaped fruit. Indeterminate and fast-growing. Get some good stakes or a big cage for this one. An old-time favorite with a sweet, clean tomato taste.
Zapotec Pleated
85 days. Indeterminate. Here is an heirloom tomato that comes deep from the interior of Oaxaca, Mexico. The bright red fruits of this big tomato are deeply pleated or ribbed. The flavor of Zapotec is sweet and intense, the fruits are extremely fleshy. Excellent for grilling, frying or stuffing. Cut into slices, the pleated fruits make some really amazing/interesting patterns for salads.

Non-heirloom, hybrid, but still GMO- and Monsanto-free tomatoes:
Ace Tomato
85 days. I nicknamed my boyfriend Ace and this tomato is as reliable and tasty as he is. It tolerates heat and humidity, so this is a tomato that can be grown in the warmer climates. Meaty, low acid, 12-oz fruits on plants that go and go and go. A keeper. <3
Sun Gold
57 days. The Sun Gold tomato is an indeterminate variety of hybrid cherry tomato. These have a sugary sweet taste, and some describe the flavor as fruity. The Sun Gold grows on a long, 4-6 foot vine and produces sizeable clusters of the tiny tomatoes. Easily the most popular cherry tomato out there.

Sweet Million Tomato
65 days. These indeterminate, bright red cherry tomatoes are extremely sweet, often the first to ripen, and are still producing ripe fruit well into October. They produce hundreds of small, flavorful “two-bite” tomatoes on 3-foot plants. Pick often, especially before rainstorms to keep them from bursting.
In years past, we have carried these heirloom tomatoes as well. We may have some soon.

Gardener’s Delight
80 days. Indeterminate. Folks have proclaimed this the best cherry tomato; extra sweet and packed with flavor. Many clusters of 6 – 12 tomatoes all summer. I love having cherry tomatoes around as I can pop them in my mouth while I do my garden work. Provide support for vigorous vines that easily reach 6 feet long.
60 days. Indeterminate. A larger sister variety of Santa, Juliet is super resistant to late blight. They will keep their green leaves about them when the tomatoes one row over blacken and die. Deep red, shiny fruits average 2 inches in size. Typically 12-18 fruits per cluster. Delicious, rich tomato flavor for salads, great salsa, and fresh pasta sauce. Good crack resistance, vine storage, and shelf life. AAS winner.
Mortgage Lifter
85 days. Indeterminate. A late season tomato with an amazing history. I will tell you an abridged version but you can hear an interview with the inventor himself here.
Marshall Cletis Byles operated an auto repair shop in Logan, West Virginia during the Great Depression. Coal and timber trucks overheated as they climbed the hill. They rolled back down the hill to M.C.’s shop where he’d fix their radiators. Soon he became known as “Radiator Charlie.”
M.C. identified four of the largest tomato varieties available in the country at the time: German Johnson, Beefsteak, an English variety, and an Italian variety and and hand-pollinated the German Johnson with pollen from the other tomatoes. For six years, M.C. saved the strongest seed from his efforts and replanted until he had a stable tomato variety. He sold his tomato plants for $1 each and he used the profits to pay off his $6,000 house mortgage.
Tomatoes are large, pink, delicious and prolific.
Oregon Spring
65 days. Determinate. This extra-early slicing variety was developed at Oregon State University. Their research shows that Oregon Spring will produce incredibly early yields of 4 inch, 3-5oz oval tomatoes when planted outside a month before your last frost date and given no protection except on frosty nights.  Gives heavy yields with few seeds and good flavor.
50 days, determinate — This tomato variety sets fruit very early. They are bright red and weigh up to five ounce. Although I would think the name came from its ability to withstand cold temps, there is a different story.
‘Siberia’ was discovered by Ron Driskill, a horticulture teacher at the Jack James Secondary School in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on sale at a local nursery. The nurseryman told him that a woman touring Canada from the Soviet Union in 1975 stopped by the greenhouse and supplied ten seeds.  The woman told them that the variety was being trialed in Siberia at that time. Mr. Driskill saw its potential and became a big promoter of the variety to Northern gardeners, first giving seeds away in exchange for a self-addressed stamped envelope and ultimately starting a small, family operated seed company appropriately named The Siberia Seed Company.
Sweet 100
65 days. These indeterminate, bright red cherry tomatoes are extremely sweet. This tomato is a hybrid and there is speculation that among Sweet 100’s parents is heirloom tomato Gardener’s Delight. Pick often, especially before rainstorms to keep them from bursting.

Tomato growing tips:
Before planting, mix a fertilizer high in phosphorus into the soil. This application will take care of the plant until the first fruits are set. Feed then and every month while the fruit is developing. Stop fertilizing when the tomatoes near maturity.
Tomatoes love heat. Cover the planting area with black or red plastic a couple of weeks before you intend to plant. Those extra degrees of warmth will translate into earlier tomatoes.
When you grow or purchase seedlings, aim for the ideal, which is a stocky plant. Unlike other plants, tomatoes are set deep in the soil. Plant them so that the first leaves are just above the soil line. Plant leggy plants horizontally so roots will form along the buried stem.
Remove the bottom TWO rows of leaves from your seedling before transplanting and bury the seedling very deep up to the next set of leaves. Be merciless. You need to encourage your seedling to grow deep roots to support the large plant.
Plant tomatoes where they will get 6-10 hours of light in summer. And leave room between plants for air to circulate.
Avoid soil-borne diseases by rotating your crop-don’t plant in the same spot you did last year and refresh the soil in your garden containers.
Determinate type tomatoes tend to set and ripen their fruit all at one time, making a large quantity available when you’re ready to make sauce. You can get indeterminate type tomatoes to set fruit earlier by pinching off the tips of the main stems in early summer.
Pinch off suckers to keep the main branches of your tomato plant at their strongest.


Water deeply every other day in the summer. Stake your plants so the branches don’t break under the weight and fruit doesn’t rot on the ground. We are really enjoying these tomato towers for supporting tomatoes.
Harvest earlier rather than later. Pull when ripe rather than dead ripe. Over-ripe tomatoes can be mealy…into the sauce they go! Or the gazpacho. If animals tend to steal your tomatoes, pull them early and let them fully ripen indoors.
More tomato and other summer veggie advice here.

Questions about heirlooms vs. hybrids answered here.
Be wary of buying Monsanto-trademarked heirloom veggies. There is a list here.
Want your own garden but need help? That’s what we’re here for. Contact us at
BONUS Chili varieties & pepper growing tips!
Presently available chilis:
A mild chili, often wound into ristras. It can be enjoyed red or green, grows to 6-10” and is wider than many chilis and easily stuffed. It is named after the city of its origin.
A moderate hot pepper 2”-6” that is tapered and twisted. The spice is based on this pepper.

Produces high yields of 2” black peppers. Has a good cold tolerance. Compact, rounded beautiful plants. Use fresh or can be dried, medium-hot.
Floral Gem
Sprawling pepper plant grown for both ornament and edible.
A favorite in ceviche and salsa. Looks and tastes like a jalapeño but can be much hotter. They are sold green when they are mild to medium hot, but when red they are much spicier. 2-3” in length.
A mild, sweet pepper great fresh or fried. This chili grows to be 2-6” long and tapered.
The classic chili pepper. Mild to medium hot, a tapered and attractive pepper. One of the rare hot chilis that can be stuffed. It is also one of the fleshier chilis so it can also be enjoyed raw.
Kung Pao
A long skinny pepper often used in Thai cooking. Medium hot.

It may be small, but its heat and smoky flavor go a long way. The pequin pepper shares many similarities with its cousin the chiltepin. Medium to high heat. Slightly hotter than cayenne with a fruity flavor. The main pepper in Cholula.
A 4” thin, waxy, mild hot pepper commonly pickled and hailing from Italy.
A large, red, heart-shaped chili pepper that measures 3 – 4 in long and 2 – 3 in wide. The flesh of the pimiento is sweet, succulent, and more aromatic than that of the red bell pepper. The fruits are typically used fresh or pickled. The pimiento has one of the lowest Scoville scale ratings of any chili pepper.
Poblanos are mild and 3-6” long and somewhat stocky. Good for stuffing. An Ancho is a dried Poblano. My favorite mild pepper.
With spiciness between a jalapeño and a habanero, this pepper has a pungent, distinctive taste. The elongated taper, about 5” at maturity, is great fresh.

A hot pepper, a little larger than the Tabasco. These peppers are often pickled for hot dogs hence the name. Medium-hot, very productive.
A small hot pepper that grows distinctively upwards on a bushy plant. The sauce is based on this 2” pepper. It is the only hot chili that is juicy inside, instead of dry.

Chili & bell pepper growing tips:
Did you know that a green bell pepper is just an unripe red pepper? All peppers start off green and then turn color…be it yellow, red, orange or purple. Manufacturers found they could cut a lot of time off food production by picking peppers early and sending them to you unripe. That’s why green peppers often give you a stomachache.
Bell peppers are susceptible to sun scorch. If they had their druthers they would get indirect afternoon light. Direct light sometimes burns their delicate skin. These peppers are still edible however.
Pepper plants live on year after year. They are perennial. Even though they may look like hell while they are dormant in the winter, they can come roaring back to life in the Spring.
Some peppers can need supports, like tomato plants, if their branches become heavy with fruit.
Peppers love a spray with epsom salt and water once the flowers start to form.
Cross pollination is common with peppers. Planted together, they may start to share colors and flavors.
Want more info on hot chilis and some great recipes? Check out this Pepperheads for Life site.


purple bell peppers that escaped the scorch