004-Heirloom Tomatoes: Past, Present and Future with Craig LeHoullier

| Grow, Podcast

This episode is packed right from the start with interesting information about heirloom tomatoes, past, present and future.


Craig LeHoullier has become quite a legend for his driveway garden. For years now, he’s been growing about 200 tomato plants in his driveway while harvesting about 2000 lbs. of fruit by the end of the season. Photo courtesy of Timber Press. Photo by Stephen L. Garrett


Our resident Epic Tomato growing expert, Craig LeHoullier is back for this part II conversation we started with episode 3. It was all about his process of how he grows over a ton of produce each year in his driveway tomato garden in Raleigh, NC.

In this episode, we dive into his love of heirloom tomatoes and what about them has Craig seeking out the overlooked varieties of decades’ past, as well as looking for tomorrow’s heirloom favorites today.



Fortunately, we have people like Craig to rediscover forgotten favorites of yesteryear and grow out varieties that are centuries old yet seem intriguing. Craig finds many of his trials based on copies of old catalogs and covers or seed packs he’s been able to source though online archives sites.


Craig’s seed collection is extensive. Most are saved in simple coin envelopes and pill bottles. Even without refrigeration, they last for years.


A big reason this is even possible to grow varieties that are decades and centuries old is because tomato seeds can last a very long time even without refrigeration or special handling (about 12-14 years according to Craig). And even with adding a drying agent to absorb moisture, such a silica packs and cold storage, seeds can remain viable for many decades.

Craig’s love of growing classic heirloom tomatoes as well as breeding tomorrow’s future heirloom variety favorites stems from three main things:

  • To grow out old forgotten or unnamed varieties
  • To see possibilities that any of our grandparents or other relatives may have grown
  • To intentionally breed to fill a gap, such as best varieties for containers


One of America’s favorite heirloom tomato varieties, Cherokee Purple was named by Craig after he grew out the seeds given to him by J.D. Green in 1990. Photo by Craig LeHoullier


One of America’s favorite heirloom varieties, Cherokee Purple as named by Craig. That experience also resulted in new discoveries and varieties also named by Craig — Cherokee Chocolate and Cherokee Green. Craig shares the fascinating story of how those came to be in our conversation.

As one of the country’s top tomato experts of our time, Craig is in touch with thousands of people each year to listen to his presentations, read his blog, or write in with questions or comments.

I asked Craig to share with us his most often asked question. It’s not what you’d think and the answer may surprise you. It did me.

I also wanted to know what question does he not get asked nearly as often as he’d like. That too resulted in a very interesting response.

For a guy who has grown and tasted thousands of tomato varieties, you might think that narrowing down the list to his top-10 all-time-favorites might be a daunting task. Craig is quick to share the ones that reign supreme on his list.

In no particular order, here they are:

  • Sun Gold (hybrid) cherry variety
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Cherokee Chocolate
  • Cherokee Green
  • Lillian’s Yellow
  • Lucky Cross (a cross-pollinated variety Craig discovered in his driveway garden)
  • Sweet Sue
  • Brandywine
  • Green Giant
  • Dester

You can read Craig’s blog post about his favorite varieties to learn more about them. You will also see he includes a few others that are very close runner ups.

Additional Resources mentioned in this podcast or related information:

Watch our Growing a Greener World television episode 803 featuring Craig LeHoullier – Epic Tomatoes. If you want to see Craig and his driveway garden in action through the growing season of 2016, this is a must-watch episode.

Our most popular blog post and video with simple step-by-step instructions on How to Make the Ultimate Tomato Cage.

Craig’s books: Epic Tomatoes and Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales

Thanks to our Brand Partner and sponsor of this podcast episode, Corona Tools. They make it possible for us to bring this and other content to you. Thanks for supporting them as well.

Corona: Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joe gardener®

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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