How to Grow Beefsteak Tomatoes

comments (17) February 5th, 2009

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Burpee Early Pick is a medium-size beefsteak tomato with good flavor. It is best planted in early spring and can be harvested in 60 days. It makes a perfect BLT.
Early-season pruning of indeterminate tomatoes encourages earlier and larger fruit.
For tasty BLTs, you cant go wrong with Big Beef tomato.
Burpee Early Pick is a medium-size beefsteak tomato with good flavor. It is best planted in early spring and can be harvested in 60 days. It makes a perfect BLT.Click To Enlarge

'Burpee Early Pick' is a medium-size beefsteak tomato with good flavor. It is best planted in early spring and can be harvested in 60 days. It makes a perfect BLT.

Photo: Marc Vassallo

I know the image they were thinking of when they coined the term beefsteak tomato: big, thick, juicy slices the size and color of a steak. These are the attributes that make for a perfect BLT, the ultimate way to enjoy tomatoes. Of course, here in the South, making BLTs is also the forum for an argument over whether Duke's or Hellmann's mayonnaise is the best. This debate is often enough to start the tomatoes flying before we even get to the cutting board. There's always full agreement, however, on using flavorful beefsteak tomatoes.

Tomato sandwich
  Once you've grown your tomatoes, make Susan Belsinger's version of summer's ultimate food.
Most people classify beefsteaks based only on their shape and size: oblate, or slightly flattened, and weighing more than a pound is usually the standard. But to my mind, unless you are going for a state fair contender, huge size is not as important as flavor. For years we have searched for great flavor in a slicing tomato, but in a user-friendly size of 8 to 12 ounces.

Varieties with great flavor
As with the mayonnaise debate, I am somewhat hesitant to lay my neck on the line and recommend tomato varieties, but I will tell you which ones have performed well for us. For many years, ‘Celebrity' was the standard by which we judged all other red slicing tomatoes. It produces well and is disease resistant. Its flavor is a well-balanced combination of acidic and sweet properties.

While I would still recommend it as good tomato, I feel that the flavor is not as good as it used to be. This sometimes happens with hybrids; seed stock can get diluted over time.

  Burpee Early Pick tomato
  'Burpee Early Pick' is a medium-size beefsteak tomato with good flavor. As its name suggests, it is best planted in early spring and can be harvested in 60 days.  
A few years back, we began the search to find a suitable replacement for ‘Celeb­rity'. The current holder of the title is ‘Big Beef'. It is an excellent producer, is disease resistant, and in our nonrigorous taste tests it rates better than ‘Celebrity' does. Our choice for early-season production is ‘Burpee's Early Pick' hybrid. It was bred for cool night conditions and has consistently produced beautiful scarlet 8-ounce fruit 60 days from transplanting. The flavor is good, more sweet than acidic.
Big Beef tomato
  'Big Beef' is a good producer, has some disease resistance, and tastes great.

‘Park's Whopper Improved' and ‘Red Sun' are hybrids that have done well for other farmers around here but haven't impressed us yet. ‘Red Sun' is supposed to have equal or better flavor than ‘Celebrity' and not be as susceptible to cracking. Still not satisfied, we have begun to try some of the many heirloom varieties now available. While usually not as disease resistant or productive as the hybrids, they offer the promise of great flavor.

The variety you grow is important for flavor, but how you grow your tomatoes will determine if you have loads of beautiful fruits or a few small fruits on weak plants. The methods we use are the keys to our success and may work for you too.

Grow healthy, productive tomatoes Get more info on growing tomatoes:

The Road to Healthy, Productive Tomatoes 
• How to Support Tomatoes 
Video: How to Prune Tomatoes 
How to Start Tomato Plants from Cuttings
Perfect Tomatoes Come from Unhurried Biochemistry
A Freestanding Tomato Trellis Improves Yield and Keeps the Garden Neat

Amend soil in the fall
We start in the fall by choosing a site that hasn't had tomatoes (or peppers, eggplant, or potatoes) on it for at least three years. Rotating these crops helps control soil-borne diseases. We do a soil test to make sure the pH and potassium (K) levels are where they should be. Tomatoes prefer a pH between 6.5 and 7.0, a little higher than for most other vegetables. Addi­tion­ally, they need at least as much potassium as nitrogen to spur good fruit development.

If my soil test reveals that everything is reasonably balanced and all that we need to do is boost the pH and potassium levels up to tomato standards, we simply add wood ashes. Not only do they have almost the same lime equivalent (85 percent) as garden lime, but they are also about 5 percent potassium. For a normal soil, I will add 10 to 15 pounds to a 300-square-foot bed. Fall is the best time to add lime and potassium to the garden because it gives the nutrients time to spread into the topsoil. We then sow a cover crop of crimson clover and wheat and put the patch to bed for the winter.

Prepare soil and install irrigation in early spring
In the spring, we mow the cover crop and turn it under three to four weeks before our intended planting date. Just before planting, we again till shallowly to kill any germinated weeds and to incorporate any nitrogen we need. Tomatoes need about 1-3⁄4 pounds of actual nitrogen per 500 square feet. If the cover crop grew well over the winter, I estimate that the soil will get about two-thirds of that nitrogen from its decomposition, and I will add the rest.

I prefer soybean meal as a source of nitrogen. It is readily available at farm supply stores and slow to medium in its nutrient release; I usually add 2 ounces of soybean meal per plant if the cover crop grew well. Be careful when applying nitrogen: Too much will make tomatoes grow lots of foliage, which can delay fruit set and make the plant more susceptible to foliar diseases. If you didn't get your lime and potassium on in the fall, you can add wood ashes in the spring as well, because they are more quickly available than most lime or potassium sources.

We then install a drip irrigation line down the middle of the bed and cover the bed with black, woven landscape fabric, pinning the edges down securely. We make 4-inch holes in the fabric for planting. We prefer landscape fabric to black plastic because we get all the benefits of plastic, like smothering weeds and warming soil, but it's reusable. And, because it's permeable, water doesn't puddle on top and become a catalyst for disease.

We mulch the paths with clean straw, then put up the trellis, as it's easier to do before the plants are in. Our trellis is a simple 5-foot wire fence. If you use cages to support your tomatoes, you can plant first, then install the cages.

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Comments (17)

royrice21 writes: great one..
Posted: 4:11 am on August 20th
Gigster 72 writes: Hello: I am growing Beef steaks here in Arizona. I find as they turn red I am getting a large brown area at the bottom of the tomatoe, how do I remedy this problem?
Posted: 6:49 pm on May 25th
Neoknot writes: I am growing Red Beefsteak and Better Boy tomatoes and I have a question...............
My plants are growing tall, but not producing a lot or even very big tomatoes. Am I doing something wrong?
And BTW..............IT'S HELLMAN'S! If you live in the South, that is a no-brainer!
Posted: 11:54 am on June 15th
ppopotame writes: as my beefsteaks are about 6 ft tall and growing every day, i was wondering whether or not i should stop their growth by snipping the tops off. can't get cages where i live, just spiral sticks about 5 ft tall. by reading your article, i realize that indeterminate growth is normal...but do i find taller sticks or do i snip? fruit and flowers all up and down. i filled the planting holes with chopt stinging nettle leaves in june, perhaps all that nitrogen is provoking all this vertical growth? i'm in southwest france. any ideas?
Posted: 3:35 pm on August 1st
khunkeith writes: @JaJa2527

I also live in Thailand and have had success growing Big Boy and beefsteak tomatoes. I start with seeds in peat moss (1500 THB a bag) and transplant to prepared earth when they are about 6-8" high. I have had several failures but, learning a little each time. Last year, I was giving away most of the fruit. I planted the seeds in November and transplanted to the garden in December. The plants are now (Jan 10) between 1-2' high and starting to flower. Out of 30 plants, 3 have died. Last year, I lost 1/2 the seedlings within 2 weeks of transplanting them. The year before, I lost them all.

The turning point was when I watched the movie "The Godfather" and the scene when Vito died in the tomato garden, there were sheets protecting them plants from the noon day sun. I rigged up the plastic sheets you see used in nurseries here and my plants only get morning sun now. The intense sun at noon and early afternoons seems to be to much for beefsteak tomatoes here in the land of smiles. I added an additional garden in the rear of the house this year and the plants seem to be doing great there. The shadow of the house covers the plants in the afternoon there as well.

Seeds don't store well though. they need to be kept away from the high humidity or they won't germinate. Keep them in an airtight mason jar with silicone beads.

my 4th crop in 2 years. 1st crop, 100% failure, 2nd, 50% failure, 3rd, the seeds did not even germinate. 4th seems to be doing very well.
Posted: 10:06 pm on January 9th
JaJa2527 writes: I live in Thailand and wish I could get could tomatoes here. But impossible. Wondering if you can grown your Big Beef tomato from a seed, keeping in mind the temperatures here are 27 to 35 all year round and rainy season from April to September.
Posted: 2:54 am on August 1st
growmokw writes: I live in key west florida and am trying to grow beefsteak tomatoes. They are not that big so far but i have noticed they leaves are looking as if they are drowsy are slightly wilted. I was wondering if anyone had any pointers for it.
Posted: 8:02 pm on April 10th
LeesBeesNJ writes: Ohhhh my..... I can just TASTE the tomatoes now. They are by far my favorite food to grow, and nothing is better than a juicy BLT with Hellmann's mayo. I'm switching from tomato cages to rings of wire fencing this year. I find that the store-bought cages blow over too easily during thunderstorms.

Tip for the suburbs: I mix lawn grass clippings into the soil before I plant my tomatoes. The decomposition gives the seedlings nutrients plus a little extra heat.
Posted: 10:32 am on February 29th
tatwood writes: Hellman's, hands down.

I've been growing only heirlooms, but have become discouraged by disease problems. This year I'll try hybrids, including Burpee Early Pick. Maybe I'll have more luck - last year was a disaster with all the rain, and then Hurricane Irene here in the northeast.
Posted: 8:45 am on February 29th
LivingMyth writes: Cain's Mayo is hand's down the best for BLT's and beyond. Try it!
Posted: 8:57 pm on November 23rd
DVincent writes: Very helpful website, planting my first ever garden, looking forward to homegrown tomatoes.
Posted: 5:30 pm on May 13th
Peregrine_Farmer writes: Hey Folks,
since I wrote this article, it has always bothered me that we had a typo on pruning. It should be that you leave the large sucker below the first fruit cluster and then take all the ones out below it. Glad you like the article.
Posted: 4:09 pm on May 4th
AnthonyD writes: Just be careful with the pruning, you can really cut down on how many fruits your plant will produce. If you only have a couple of tomato plants you may not want to prune. A good cage support can help a lot.
Posted: 4:41 pm on May 1st
phutch10 writes: Thanks for the information; I did not prune tomato plants last year. Now that I know about pruning tomato plants, I will do this.
Posted: 1:31 am on March 15th
Addassamari writes: I am a container gardener. I have had success with smaller varieties of tomatoes and will adopt these ideas for larger sized tomatoes.
Posted: 2:30 pm on December 26th
JadaE writes: Excellent info...I was definitely not pruning correctly! And it's gotta be Hellmann's mayo, right? :)
Posted: 4:19 pm on July 22nd
nettiepoo writes: i learned alot from this article and will try these tips
Posted: 1:40 pm on March 13th
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