Ok they aren't really black in most cases, but more a shade of dark purple to, in extreme cases, chocolate, but these wonderful heirloom varieties often date back hundreds of years and range from such rich beefsteak tomatoes as the Purple Cherokee to the berry sized Black Cherry.

Popular varieties

Many of these are Russian/Ukrainian in origin to include the very tasty green-topped Black Krim, the rich, the slightly sweet Black Russian, the huge (12-16 ounce) Black Sea Man, and ready-for-sauce Purple Russian. Then there is the more robust and modern Carbon, Black Zebra, Paul Robeson (which won "Best of Show" tomato at the Carmel TomatoFest), and Brad's Black Heart which have their own flavor that, in many regards, surpasses old standbys like the Krim. Other overseas varieties that are available in the U.S. are the Japanese Black Trifele.

If you are in a northern area that doesn't have a nice 85-day growing season or access to a hothouse, there are Black Cherry tomatoes that only take about 60 to ripen. While these aren't quite as sweet as traditional cherry toms, they have a much more developed flavor.

How to care for these

In most cases, you can treat these as your typical tomato plant. Choose a bright, airy spot where they will get 10-hours or more of light during the late spring and summer and keep those top leaves trimmed back. Do not overcrowd your plantings, giving them room to grow-and don't be shy about trimming off. When planting seedlings don't be afraid to bury those stems up to the leaves. Water liberally about once a week taking rainfall into account but be careful to keep the soil from getting soggy. Pick when ripe and be prepared for a dazzling array of colors from green to purple to brown with some of these exotics.

With such a range in varieties, sizes, and uses, there is sure to be a black tomato eager to fill a niche in your garden this spring. Do you research and pick what works best for your needs.

Where to get them

The good news is that these purple-black beauties are making a big come back. Tomato Fest stocks dozens of varieties in of (CCOF) certified organic heirloom black seed packets while Heirloom Tomato Plants germinates 12" plants and packs them for shipment. The latter has such wonderful plants such as Black Ethiopians (which actually come from the Ukraine), disease-resistant Cherokee Purples, and three time Tomato Fest Winner Chocolate Stripes.

However with the growing popularity of these tommy-toes, you can expect to find increasing varieties of them at your local co-op and garden center in coming years.

But by then, you should be set already!