Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes

Cherokee Purple Tomato Info – How To Grow A Cherokee Purple Tomato Plant

Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes are rather odd-looking tomatoes with a flattened, globe-like shape and pinkish-red skin and hints of green and purple. The flesh is a rich red color and the flavor is delicious – both sweet and tart. Interested in growing Cherokee Purple tomatoes? Read on to learn more.

Cherokee Purple Tomato Info

Cherokee Purple tomato plants are heirloom plants, which means they have been around for several generations. Unlike hybrid varieties, heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated so the seeds will produce tomatoes nearly identical to their parents.

These tomatoes originated in Tennessee. According to plant lore, Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes may have been passed down from the Cherokee tribe.

How to Grow a Cherokee Purple Tomato

Cherokee Purple tomato plants are indeterminate, which means the plants will continue to grow and produce tomatoes until the first frost in autumn. Like most tomatoes, Cherokee Purple tomatoes grow in nearly any climate that provides plenty of sunlight and three to four months of warm, dry weather. Soil should be rich and well drained.

Dig in a generous amount of compost or well-rotted manure before planting. Planting is also the time to use a slow-release fertilizer. Thereafter, feed the plants once every month throughout the growing season.

Allow 18 to 36 inches (45-90 cm.) between each tomato plant. If necessary, protect young Cherokee Purple tomato plants with a frost blanket if nights are chilly. You should also stake the tomato plants or provide some type of sturdy support.

Water the tomato plants whenever the top 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) of soil feels dry to the touch. Never allow the soil to become either too soggy or too dry. Uneven moisture levels can cause cracked fruit or blossom end rot. A thin layer of mulch will help keep the soil evenly moist and cool.

What are the best Tomatoes to grow?

We grow tomatoes to eat fresh and to prepare a variety of recipes – which makes it obvious why, if we have the space, we choose more than one variety of tomato to grow. Most gardeners develop favorites, but in general, when choosing which variety will best fit our needs, the first thing to think about is the long-term plan for the harvest. How much space do we have? How long do we have to wait before that first ripe tomato? Are we growing for fresh eating and/or for putting away? In many cases, the answers to these questions tell us whether we want to grow a determinate or indeterminate variety.

The miracle of determinate tomatoes is that they grow on a plant on which all of the fruit ripens simultaneously – within a week or two, and they tend to ripen early. The plants are smaller and more bush like and are often a good choice for growing in containers. While all tomatoes in general like to be staked, determinates are shorter and once flowers have appeared and fruit sets, the plants stop growing and eventually die. For this reason, some gardeners skip the supports. This “miracle” could be a nightmare if what you were looking for is a tomato that is still ripening in September – but if you’d like to “put summer up in a jar”, and enjoy an early crop, these are the varieties to choose.

New Big Dwarf Determinate Tomato

Indeterminate varieties are also called “vining” tomatoes. They grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although 6 feet is more normal. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit continuously throughout the growing season. They require caging and or/ staking for support and pruning off the suckering branches is practiced by many but not mandatory. Because of the need for substantial support and the size of plants, indeterminate varieties are not usually recommended as container plants.

Mr.Stripey Indeterminate Tomato

Some favorite Determinate varieties…

In my garden, there is almost always a couple of Principe Bourghese tomato plants because this heirloom was bred in Italy for drying. I like dried tomatoes because they are so easy to preserve, versatile, and they last forever! I collect them in batches over a week or two and toss them sliced into my home dryer overnight. Presto!

Tiny Tim is a determinate tomato specifically bred for growing in a container. The fruit is early, small, succulent and very well suited to a sunny balcony or deck right outside the kitchen. Because it fruits all at once, if you have a container garden and want the advantages of a longer season crop, try succession planting. Start some seeds 3 or 4 weeks after the first planting.

I like to freeze and can (yes, I really do like to can tomatoes and sauces) and it is so much easier to use determinate varieties like San Marzano, for its rich, delicious flavor, Rutgers for early slicing or Roma for good yield and quick sauce. Using determinates makes it easier to plan for preserving because of their simultaneous fruiting habit. Nothing, of course, stops me from eating these lovelies fresh from the garden, but mostly I count on the Indeterminate varieties for that.

If you’re looking forward to a summer long experience of fresh tomatoes, you’ll be looking for what is called an indeterminate variety – which simply means, these are vining tomatoes that continue to grow and fruit until the weather no longer permits – often, first frost. Most heirlooms and open-pollinated tomatoes are indeterminate and they come in every size, shape and color.

San Marzano Tomato

Some favorite Indeterminate varieties…

I tend to like bi-colors like Mr. Stripey, Chocolate Stripes, and Paul Robeson for their rich taste sliced or chopped into a salad. Speckled Roman is a favorite for it’s gorgeous appearance and versatility in sauces and as a slicer. The dark tomatoes like Black Krim, Black from Tula, Cherokee Purple, make my mouth water just thinking about them and my eyes sparkle when I imagine them sliced in a sandwich or adding contrast to a sauce or salad. The huge ones like Mortgage Lifter or New Big Dwarf or the Brandywines make quick work of a sandwich or sauce. You don’t need many of these to make a whole dinner. And, of course, there are all those terrific cherry tomatoes for snacking. The point is, these Indeterminates are the joy of summer until frost or disease takes them off the table.

Speckled Roman Tomatoes one of the most beautiful of indeterminate varieties.

It is worth saying that more evidence shows that pruning and staking indeterminate tomatoes helps with disease prevention and increases the size of the fruit. Stake the plants, prune the suckers, and give them plenty of space so that air can circulate. However, because of their growth habit, the more bushy, shorter determinate tomatoes should never be pruned. The suckers on determinate tomatoes, once removed will kill off the fruit and slow the yield.

I have just chosen the seed for this year’s varieties for my garden and am awaiting their arrival. I’ll start them soon enough and delight in watching them emerge and grow before I can put them out and baby them, as they evolve into the joy of summer.

Written by Angie Lavezzo

Cherokee Purple Tomato, Indigo Rose Purple Tomato, Growing Heirloom Tomatoes,

Cherokee Purple Tomato

Here are a few easy tips for growing the Cherokee Purple tomato, and the Indigo Rose tomato in home vegetable gardens.

Learn how to plant, grow, and care for these heirloom tomato varieties in your garden!

The Cherokee is a cultivar heirloom plant variety noted for its great tomato flavor; just the right amount of sweetness, and unique dusky red/deep purple color.

The Indigo Rose is a truly purple tomato, that was recently developed at Oregon State University.

The Cherokee Purple tomato was one of the first known dark colored tomato groups.

The eye-pleasing and mouth-watering Cherokee purple is beefsteak-shaped with green shoulders and its unusual outside coloring carries though to the delectable flesh inside.

About Cherokee Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomato Cherokee Purple Variety

The indeterminate vine plant grows to a height of nine feet to support the heavy-weight one-pound fruit.

In 80 days to harvest, you can be taking a huge bite out of its juicy, dense texture.

An indeterminate tomato plant grows and produces blossoms and fruits until killed by external factors such as frost.

Indeterminate plants produce fruit during the entire growing season, whereas determinate tomatoes are most productive in a larger, single harvest.

As the story goes, the Cherokee purple tomato was given to early settlers of the United States from the Native American Cherokees.

You will be tickled pink to find on examining the fruit that it has a purple hue.

Seeds from the heirloom Cherokee purple were sent by collectors to two major seed companies and each company elected to carry the cultivar, which makes them widely available to the home gardener today.

These heirloom tomatoes are appealing with amateur and professional breeders alike because the vegetables are easy to save seeds from and the plants are easily grown.

Indigo Rose Purple Tomato

Indigo Rose Purple Tomato Variety

The “Indigo Rose” is the first truly purple tomato to be developed. It came about through a program at Oregon State University that was attempting to breed tomato varieties with high levels of antioxidants.

According to a professor in the Oregon State horticulture department, the Indigo Rose tomato is the first improved tomato variety in the world that has anthocyanins (a type of antioxidant) in its fruit.

The seeds are available through various mail order seed companies, including Territorial Seed Company.

Growing Heirloom Tomatoes in the Garden

Heirloom Tomato Varieties Including Cherokee Purple

  • Sow tomato seeds such as Cheorkee Purple indoors 8-10 weeks before planting time (one-two weeks after last frost date) to have seedlings ready to transplant into the ground.
  • Or purchase tomato seedlings a week or two before planting time.
  • Use covers to protect tomatoes from cold nights or unexpected frosts.

Planting Tomatoes

*Plant tomatoes in a location that receives full sun.

*Enrich garden or container soil with compost and/or other fertilizer as growing tomatoes prefer rich soil, well-aerated soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5.

*Soil should be well-drained.

*Tomato plants need at least 3 feet of space in each direction in order to thrive.

*Water tomato plants regularly. One inch of water per week is recommended, with an additional half-inch during very hot dry weather.

*If the soil is dry an inch or two below the surface, it is time to water again.

*Feed tomato plants with liquid fertilizer according to directions on container for best results.

Not-Yet-Ripe Cherokee Purple Tomato Growing in Garden

Insect & Disease Control for Growing Cherokee Purple Tomato Plants

  • Pests such as thrips can transmit viral diseases to tomato plants.
  • Affected plants may show signs such as mottled, splotchy, yellow and light green mosaic patterns.
  • Foliage may be curled or crinkled.
  • Prevention is the only solution as there is no cure for plant viruses.
  • Healthy tomato plants are much more resistant to tomato diseases than weak or undernourished plants.
  • Treat insect infestations as soon as possible because insects carrying a mosaic virus can be deadly to tomato plants.

The Cherokee purple tomato is known to have built up a good resistance to Fusarium Wilt and Septoria leaf spot.

Tomato Cage Benefits

You can wrap your tomato cages in row-cover material to protect the plants from insect feeding in their early growth stages.

By the time you remove the protective coverings, the plants will be large enough to be more resistant.

Grow-bags, which are clear plastic vented sleeves, work as well over the cages and its use can double your tomato production.

Problems with soil borne fungal diseases like early blight can be counteracted by trellising your tomatoes.

This way the plants have less contact with the soil and better air circulation.

Make a trellis by stretching a double course of concrete reinforcing wire between sturdy posts.

The wire mesh extends 5 feet above the ground, which gives the plants plenty of room to grow.

How to Make Sun-dried Tomatoes

  1. In a hot, dry climate, you can sun-dry tomatoes outside.
  2. Slice them in half and spread the halves out on screening.
  3. Tent cheesecloth over the tomatoes for protection against insects that want a taste of the Cherokee purple tomato too!
  4. On cool nights, you may want to bring them indoors.
  5. The tasty veggies will dry in a day or so.

The Cherokee plants hold up well to plant diseases and mild drought, producing beautifully colored fruit that varies in hues of pinkish/purple.

The Cherokee Purple tomato is sure to be one of your favorite varieties ever grown in the vegetable garden!

You Might Also like to Read:

Growing Tomatoes

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

Cherokee Purple: The Story Behind One Of Our Favorite Tomatoes

A Cherokee purple tomato grown in Alaska in 2011. Sherry Shiesl/Tatiana’s TOMATObase hide caption

toggle caption Sherry Shiesl/Tatiana’s TOMATObase

A Cherokee purple tomato grown in Alaska in 2011.

Sherry Shiesl/Tatiana’s TOMATObase

Fortunately for those of us who are suckers for novelty, every year fruits and vegetables seem to come in more bewitching colors, shapes and flavors. In recent years, we’ve been transfixed by Glass Gem Corn and the vibrant orange Turkish eggplant.

If you go to the farmers market this time of year, tomatoes are strutting their stuff in all sorts of glorious and quirky hues: green striped, white, pink, indigo, even purplish-brown. They boast intriguing names, like Mortgage Lifter, Arkansas Traveler and Pink Berkeley Tie Dye. Some are true heirlooms, passed down over decades or centuries. Others are brand new to the world, the progeny of the latest cross-breeding experiments.

We got to wondering just who, besides farmers, is to thank for this expanding panoply. And we learned that while there are many professional breeders tinkering with the desirable traits that show up in the new varieties, amateur breeders — passionate seed savers and collectors — also play a vital role in discovering fruit and vegetable varieties guarded and nurtured by families over generations. Every now and then, these amateurs convince seed companies that the rest of the world will want to enjoy something they’ve discovered.

Craig LeHoullier, a retired chemist from Raleigh, N.C., can take credit for introducing us to the Cherokee Purple tomato, one of the most popular heirlooms grown and sold today. You’d be forgiven if your first impression of this fruit, with its ungainly bulges and tones of brown, green and purple, was dismissive. But its flavor consistently knocks socks off, with its balance of sweet, acid and savory — even a hint of smoke.

LeHoullier is — it’s fair to say — obsessed with tomatoes and their stories. With more than 3,000 varieties, he has one of the largest personal tomato collections in the country. In his small yard at his home in the Raleigh suburbs, he can grow only 200 plants, so each year he must pore over the collection to decide what makes the cut.

An avid gardener for much of his life, LeHoullier, 59, joined the Seed Savers Exchange in 1986 and began connecting with other gardeners and seed savers to trade tips and favorite varieties.

Soon, LeHoullier had built a reputation as a tomato connoisseur, joining a small group of other hard-core tomato seed savers committed to reviving heirlooms. (Heirlooms are much friendlier to seed saving than the ubiquitous red hybrid tomatoes that dominate the commercial market.)

One day in 1990, a packet of tomato seeds arrived in LeHoullier’s mail with a handwritten note. The sender was John Green of Sevierville, Tenn., who wrote that the seeds came from very good tomatoes he’d gotten from a woman who received them from her neighbors. The neighbors said that the varietal had been in their family for 100 years, and that the seeds were originally received from Cherokee Indians.

“It was a question of being in the right place at the right time,” says LeHoullier, whose book Epic Tomatoes: How To Select & Grow The Best Varieties Of All Time came out in January. “Green had the forethought to send them to me, hoping that I would love them.”

His hunch was correct, and LeHoullier was so impressed with the tomatoes the color of a “bad leg bruise” that he named them Cherokee Purple and sent his friends at a few seed companies some seeds.

“If Craig hadn’t said, ‘This tomato is really amazing,’ I doubt we would have tried it,” says Ira Wallace, who coordinates the variety selection for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a cooperative seed company that’s helped to promote and disseminate many heirloom varieties. “It was an ugly tomato, and before all these heirlooms came along, all we knew were red and yellow tomatoes.”

Rob Johnston is the founder and CEO of Johnny’s Selected Seeds, another company that got the Cherokee Purple from LeHoullier and now does good business from the seed. Johnston says it’s rare that an amateur seed saver discovers a variety that becomes commercially popular, but it’s more likely for tomatoes than, say, carrots.

“Tomatoes are always a favorite of seed savers because they’re easy to save,” says Johnston. “And tomato seeds have long viability, so they might sit in a glass jar in somebody’s pantry for many years before someone discovers it and decides to keep growing it.” But those purple carrots you might spy at the market? That’s the work of professional breeders, says Johnston.

As for the family lore that often accompanies heirloom seeds like the Cherokee Purple? Its accuracy is always hard to judge, says LeHoullier. “It’s one of the more fascinating and frustrating aspects of pursuing heirlooms. For the vast majority we have a tantalizing taste of history, but there are always more questions to ask,” he says.

Joe Brunetti, a horticulturalist with Smithsonian Gardens, prunes Cherokee Purple tomato vines at the American Museum of Natural History Victory Garden. Eliza Barclay/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eliza Barclay/NPR

Joe Brunetti, a horticulturalist with Smithsonian Gardens, prunes Cherokee Purple tomato vines at the American Museum of Natural History Victory Garden.

Eliza Barclay/NPR

As for the Cherokee legend, Joe Brunetti, a horticulturalist with Smithsonian Gardens who manages the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History, says it’s quite conceivable that the Cherokees were growing tomatoes in Tennessee over 100 years ago.

“We grow the Cherokee Purple in the Victory Garden because it tolerates the humidity and diseases here better than the other dark tomatoes,” says Brunetti. “That makes sense if it comes from the Tennessee River Valley originally, which is also humid.”

And seed savers say discoveries like the Cherokee Purple help preserve not just genetic diversity but also history.

“The stories themselves offer a snapshot of a time and place and region — they’re a real wealth of cultural history,” says Sara Straate, who leads a project to document the stories behind the seeds in the collection of the Seed Savers Exchange.

In 2015, Seeds of Change, another seed company, made the Cherokee Purple the poster child for its new initiative Save the Flavors, and is giving away free seeds to encourage people to keep heirloom varieties like it going.

A version of this story was first published on Aug. 13, 2013.

CC flickr photo courtesy of jenniferworthen

One of the most popular of the non-traditional heirloom varieties of tomato, the Cherokee Purple grows to both great height and gives fruit of large size. It’s very tasty with what’s usually described as a “tomato-ey” flavor and has a distinctive deep reddish-purple color. Cherokee Purples are some of the most eye-pleasing and distinctive of tomatoes in both appearance and taste.

Best Soil for Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

As with all tomatoes, rich soil is a must. The soil should be airy, heavy with nutrients, and should be loose down to six or more inches to account for the deep roots that this tall plant will set. A relatively high nitrogen content in the beginning (left to bleed off by harvest to encourage fruiting) is recommended and Cherokee’s thrive in soil with a pH of 6 to 6.5.

Proper Care of Cherokee Purple Tomato Plants

Start seeds at least 8 weeks before the last frost date. Cherokee Purples are relatively slow in gestation and will grow slowly (even in good potting soil) for the first three or four weeks after sprouting. Seedlings purchased from a greenhouse should be kept indoors for a week or so and hardened. When small, Cherokees are very susceptible to climate issues (too much sun, cold, etc) and should be protected.

Plant them in the ground and be sure they receive full sun. The soil should be rich and slightly acidic (see above) and plants will need at least three feet (36 inches) of space – 48 inches is recommended, however. They will grow to be close to 9 feet in height and have a good spread of branches.

Pinch off early shoots to encourage rooting and strong stem growth. Be sure they’re watered regularly and that a side dressing of light fertilizer or compost is added every 30-45 days. Use an evenly balanced fertilizer if your soil began with a high nitrogen content (as recommended).

Of course, cages or hoops are required for these huge plants with their heavy fruits. Stakes can be used, but will not likely keep the large tomatoes on the vine once they near ripeness, so cages are preferred. Many have had good luck with tepee-style frames.

When to Harvest Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

For most growers, it will take at least 80 days to reach harvest, but as with many heirlooms, your Cherokee Purples are not likely to all ripen at once, but will often self-stagger the harvest over a week or two. Pick the tomatoes when they are large, and have a strong purple hue amongst their deep red background. Their shoulders usually remain green, but may get lighter in color when ripe.

Saving Cherokee Purple Tomato Seeds

Seeds from Cherokees are easily dried and stored. Many hollow out the tomatoes for the seeds and use the shells to bake as stuffed tomatoes. Clean and separate the seeds carefully, then dry slowly over time. Most well-dried heirloom seeds like the Cherokee Purple will keep for 2-3 years in a cool, dry place.

Cherokee Purple Tomato: Pests and Diseases

Cherokee Purples are generally resistant to Fusarium Wilt and Septoria, the most common of tomato diseases. If they are kept healthy, these heirlooms will resist nearly every disease and most pests as well. Their primary enemy in the United States is the mosaic virus, which cannot be cured once it sets in. If you suspect any of your plants have contracted this (it is usually carried by insects and marked by its curling of the leaves in a wilt-like fashion), you should remove the plants from your garden quickly and destroy them.

Keeping the tomatoes off the ground prevents most types of blight. Pests like birds and grasshoppers are not generally as drawn to Cherokee Purples due to their odd coloring, but leaf-eaters like caterpillars can ravage the plant.

How to Prepare Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Cherokee Purple tomatoes can be eaten in any of a thousand ways. For every gardener growing them, there are ten recipes for eating them. They are great raw, dried, canned, or sauteed. Most people do not pickle or render them to paste as this eye-pleasing variety is best enjoyed through sight as well as taste.

Tips for Growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Amongst the heirloom varieties available today, the Cherokee Purple is generally one of the easiest to grow. They require tender loving care in the beginning stages, but once well-established, they will require only regular watering and the occasional fertilization.

Want to learn more about growing Cherokee Purple Tomatoes?

Check out these helpful resources:
Cherokee Purple: The Story Behind One Of Our Favorite Tomatoes from NPR
The Purple Tomato FAQ from Oregon State University
University of Missouri – Growing Home Garden Tomatoes
University of Illinois – Tomatoes

Ask a Question forum: When to harvest Cherokee Purple Tomatoes?

TigerZero said:All my past tomato growing experience have been with tomatoes like the Celebrity or Bestboy variety. This year is my first attempt at the Cherokee Purple variety. I bought a greenhouse produced plant of the Cherokee. I had read it had a long maturing rate and wanted them mature around late July.. But disaster struck. Something nibbled the top leaves and blossoms off. I did have one from that plant already developing and picked it in mid July. The same disaster hit the Celebrity next to it. Nibbled. I took measures to protect the plants, They both recovered spectacularly. But!!!! It’s mid September and they are a lot of tomatoes still green.
I can see the development has slowed a lot due to the change of season here in Va. Some of the tomatoes on both plants started changing color from full green a week ago. I’m mostly concerned with the Cherokee Purple. It is not following what I see in pictures. My instincts told me to pull the few small ones now. The colors on them range from a dark green at the tops to a sort of dark brown/green/red over the rest. I think they need to rest on the counter for several day to ripen more.
If you could post a pic of a Cherokee that is on the plant ripe to pick would be a big help. I’ll try to post a pic of the ones I pulled next to a standard red tomato for reference.
Thank you.

I’ve been growing Cherokee Purple for years and consider it the best-tasting tomato ever. But it is tricky.
The one on the left looks wonderful but might ripen more a couple days on the kitchen counter out of direct sunlight.
The one on the bottom looks most common with the surface scar and is probably ripe. I just cut the scars off.
The “feel” is odd with Cherokee Purple. When they feel ripe compared to other heirloom tomatoes, they are slightly past their prime.
I drove myself nuts the first few years waiting too long to see the tops turn “purple” and the “feel” right. The name fools you. They are ripe when the tops look deep green and the bottoms are purplish.
It does take some experience with those, but when you learn to pick them at the right time, O…M…G!
| Quote | Post #1550965 (5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *