I've grown Cherokee Purple four times now and because of a common tomato fungus, I think gardeners will be happier with its performance if it's planted in July for a fall tomato crop.
Keep reading to find out what this means...
I'm not sure how Cherokee Purple came to be THE heirloom tomato variety, but it very obviously has. For good reason though, even if we don't have ties to the Cherokee Nation, we as gardeners know where it came from, which is what really makes something "heirloom," right? It has a gorgeous color and a unique but not peculiar flavor.
Thing is, I haven't had great luck with the plants themselves. At least not until I grew them last fall, which is why I think gardeners growing in a short-spring environment like mine, should consider "early" tomato varieties for the spring and save Cherokee Purples for fall growing.
The problem with growing Cherokee Purple in the spring: blight
I've grown Cherokee Purple tomatoes in four seasons, three spring seasons and once in the fall. The first spring, I never got any tomatoes before the plants croaked. The second and third springs I had a couple ripe tomatoes around July 4.
Let me tell you, those Independence Day BLTs were delicious! Unfortunately, I'd been nursing the plants along for a few weeks just to make sure these fruit reached maturity. Not only were they my first Cherokee Purples of the season, they were my last... two years in a row. It was pretty disappointing.
I was battling a common tomato plant problem: blight.
Early blight is a common fungal leaf problem that especially impacts tomato growers in wetter climates which makes me prone to it in Central Oklahoma. We're typically dry during the summer, but all of our Spring and Early Summer rains come in a handful of flash-flood causing downpours. Hence blight.
Growing Cherokee Purple in the fall
As mentioned above, last fall was the first time I grew true fall tomatoes. This means I put new plants in the ground during the summer (early July in my climate) so that I would be getting ripe fruit before the first frost.
With the overly wet conditions I typically face in Spring no longer a factor, these tomatoes produced like mad once the temperatures cooled down. I was going 100% pesticide free last year so I lost a lot of fruit to tomato worms but I still harvested much more than I had in the spring. That is until one of the earliest recorded freezes put my gardening season to an early end.
The popularity of Cherokee Purple does help someone who wants to grow these plants as fall tomatoes. I found starts at the local Home Depot, in July. These were hangers-on, leftover from the spring gardening rush. These were healthy, new plants.
What to grow instead?
That's a tricky question. Many of the other heirloom purple/black tomatoes haven't gained the widespread popularity of Cherokee Purple which makes seeds and plants harder to find.
This forum offers a few suggestions, with Indian Stripe being suggested several times. While I haven't had the chance to try Indian Stripe myself, I did Google it and found seeds available at many reputable sources including TomatoFest and Reimer Seeds.