Tomato growers' enthusiasm for heirloom varieties has skyrocketed in recent years, with gardeners seeking more unusual-looking and great-tasting tomatoes. Although hybrid tomatoes offer a predictable appearance, high yields and disease resistance, flavor is sometimes lost during the hybridization process. Heirlooms such as the “Orange Oxheart” variety (Lycopersicon esculentum), which originates from the Virginia area, offer tomato growers unique colors and shapes, and great taste to savor throughout the growing season and beyond.
An “Orange Oxheart” tomato is hard to miss in the garden. The fruit is large – typically weighing in between 8 ounces and 1 pound or more. Not surprisingly, “Orange Oxheart” tomatoes have orange flesh, ranging from a bright yellow-orange to a deeper orange-red. Its fruit also does not bear the traditional round tomato shape; rather, “Orange Oxheart” tomatoes are indeed heart shaped. This heirloom also features meaty dense flesh with a rich tomato aroma and few seeds. “Orange Oxheart” vines can grow to between 5 and 7 feet tall with a 3-foot spread, although with proper pruning and staking, this variety can also be grown in containers.
Like all tomatoes, “Orange Oxhearts” are sun- and heat-loving plants, and are susceptible to damage from spring and autumn frosts. If planting seeds, start them indoors using grow lights five to six weeks before your estimated last frost date. Transplants should not be planted outside until all risk of frost has passed, typically three weeks after the last frost. Choose a planting site with maximum full sun and well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7, although it is better to plant young “Orange Oxhearts” on a cloudy day to avoid stressing the plant. Leave at least 3 inches between plants.
Regular watering is essential for tomato varieties such as “Orange Oxheart” that produce large fruit. Plants should be watered at the roots, and generally 1 inch of water per week is recommended although this varies with climate and weather conditions. Uneven watering can result in blossom end rot in this heirloom tomato variety. As with most indeterminate varieties of tomatoes, some form of caging or staking is recommended; and because of the “Orange Oxheart's” large fruit size, good support becomes essential. Remove suckers, or tiny offshoots from the main stems, as they drain nutrient reserves and reduce tomato yields. A fertilizer boost should be applied in midsummer, and cut back slightly the amount of water given when the fruit begins to color to intensify the “Orange Oxheart's” flavor.
“Orange Oxheart” tomatoes are ready for harvest approximately 80 days after being planted outdoors. This heirloom variety is versatile in that it can be enjoyed fresh, sliced onto a sandwich or salad, or used for processing. Its rich flavor, firm dense flesh and few seeds make it an excellent tomato for sauces and canning.