The Brandywine varieties are some of the most popular heirloom tomatoes grown in North America. They are known for their huge size, great taste, and pumpkin-like ridges. Many color options are also available in the Brandywine family, including red, pink, orange, yellow and even black tomatoes. Their distinctive potato-plant-like leaves set them apart from most other varieties of tomato.
There are both determinate and indeterminate varieties, but most people associate Brandywine with the indeterminate, vining heirlooms. It’s not known exactly how old these heirlooms are, but it’s believed they came to America with the Amish and are some of the first types to appear in seed catalogs.
Best Soil for Growing Brandywine Tomatoes
This variety prefers slightly acidic soil at a pH of around 6.5. This is difficult to maintain in some areas, so it’s important that the soil be at about this level for a period before planting so as to be sure it can be maintained. More important, however, is the proper amount of nitrogen and to know when to “starve” the plants of it in order to encourage more fruiting.
Proper Care of Brandywine Tomatoes
Unlike other, more common tomato varieties that are more fruit-bearing and less demanding, the Brandywine requires detailed care and maintenance. Watering through ground moisture is important (rather than getting the leaves wet with spray) because it not only feeds the plants with more water, but it eliminates the chances of many types of parasites that can affect this delicate plant.
Normal soil fertility (balanced nutrition) is needed for the beginning stages. Once the plants are established and have grown to a foot or two in size (they will be heavy with leaves and you’ve hopefully been pinching off early suckers), adding fertilizer with no nitrogen (0-10-10 or similar) will lower the N value of the soil and discourage more green foliage growth. This stunting of the rapid growth of the foliage will mean that the plants will become less bushy and bear more fruit instead.
Maintain this nitrogen starvation until fruits have appeared and are established. Then feed a balanced 10-10-10 to begin raising nitrogen levels again. This keeps foliage green, encourages larger leaves, and keeps the harvest getting larger.
Like most tomatoes, Brandywines will also require staking, trellising, or large hoops to hold the plants upright (they can get as tall as 8 feet in some varieties).
When to Harvest Brandywine Tomatoes
Harvest quickly, as soon as the tomatoes are ready. They will likely ripen within the same couple of weeks on any given plant. Tomatoes are ready when they have reached their full size (which can be quite large), full color, and are beginning to become slightly soft to the touch. Delaying the harvest can mean split tomatoes and heavy bruising as the big orbs fall from the plant. Most Brandywine varieties take 90 days or more to reach full ripeness.
Saving Brandywine Tomato Seeds
Seeds can be saved from all heirloom varieties of Brandywine. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop the seds from the centers. The rest of the tomato can be processed or eaten. The seeds should be cleaned of their filaments and residue and then dried in a hot, relatively dry location.
Direct sunlight is OK for two or three hours a day during this process, but more than that can cause the seeds to dry too quickly and die. Leaving them exposed to predators (birds and the like) is also asking for losses. In warm climates, it will take 2-3 days to dry enough for storage.
Pests and Diseases of Brandywine Tomatoes
Brandywine’s are susceptible to many pests and diseases. Because they take so long to ripen and are not particularly hardy or disease-resistant, they can be afflicted by nearly all tomato pests. Watering at the ground eliminates most of the fungal infections, while encouraging plants like Marigolds and the like around the tomato patch can keep many bugs at bay. Netting is popular as a preventive against birds, bugs, and beetles, but can mean beneficial insects like bees, wasps, and other pollinators and bug eaters are also kept out.
How to Prepare Brandywine Tomatoes
Brandywine’s are the most-favored table tomato of all time. They are sweet, large, and pleasing to taste, though not always perfect-looking. They do not have a long shelf life, however, so canning, pickling, saucing, and drying are also recommended. Dried Brandywines retain a sweet flavor and can be sliced into large, pretty cuts for aesthetic appeal as well.
Tips for Growing Brandywine Tomatoes
Novice gardeners probably should not attempt to grow these as their only variety. Most gardeners require two or three years’ of attempts before they are successful with Brandywine crops. These plants require a lot of tender care, so be sure to have the time to devote all that TLC to them for the entire season.
Want to learn more about growing Brandywine Tomatoes?
Check out these helpful resources:
University of Missouri – Growing Home Garden Tomatoes
University of California – Heirloom Tomatoes