If you’re looking for a flavorful and versatile tomato that can withstand heat and drought, check out the Arkansas Traveler. This heirloom variety was bred to tolerate the often harsh conditions present in the South.
Not only are these plants tough, but their bright pink fruits are a pleasing blend of acidic and sweet.
Keep reading to learn how to grow Arkansas Traveler tomatoes.
Arkansas Traveler Tomato – Quick Growing Guide
|Plant Type:||Annual vegetable||Tolerance:||Heat, fruit cracking, mild drought|
|USDA Hardiness Zone:||4–9||Maintenance:||Moderate to high|
|Season:||Summer and early fall||Soil Type:||Rich and well-aerated|
|Exposure:||Full sun||Soil pH:||6.2 to 6.8|
|Time to Maturity:||85–90 days after transplant||Soil Drainage:||Well-draining|
|Spacing:||24 inches||Companion Planting:||Lettuce, basil, beets, sweet alyssum, marigold|
|Planting Depth:||1/4 inch deep||Don’t Plant Near:||Potatoes, peas, pole beans, corn|
|Common Pests and Diseases:||Aphids, thrips, late blight, early blight, septoria leaf spot, fusarium wilt||Cultivar:||Arkansas Traveler|
About Arkansas Traveler Tomato Plants
The Arkansas Traveler is an heirloom tomato variety that has been around for centuries. It originated in the South, where it was lauded for its ability to withstand the heat, humidity, and drought often present in the area.
As an heirloom, it’s open-pollinated and breeds true to seed. That means if you pollinate one Arkansas Traveler flower with another Arkansas Traveler flower, the seeds from the resulting fruits will grow into plants that are identical to the parent plants.
The plants are indeterminate. This means they will continue to grow and produce flowers until something kills the plant.
Typically, Arkansas Traveler plants will produce tomatoes over 2–4 months. They will stop growing and producing fruits until frost arrives or the plants are killed by drought, disease, or other adverse conditions.
Arkansas Traveler plants produce medium-sized slicing tomatoes that weigh about 6–8 ounces. The fruits are dark pink and mostly uniform in shape.
The tomatoes have a balanced and mild flavor that combines sweetness and acidity. The flesh is creamy, smooth, and juicy.
While some say this tomato has been around for more than a hundred years, others say that it was bred by Joe McFerran at the University of Arkansas.
McFerran did release the ‘Traveler’ tomato in 1971, but people debate whether this variety is the same as earlier heirloom varieties referred to as ‘Arkansas Traveler.’
Since Arkansas Traveler seedlings can be difficult to find in nurseries and greenhouses, you may need to purchase seeds and grow your own transplants. Fortunately, numerous companies carry Arkansas Traveler seeds.
When late winter arrives, I’m itching to get into the garden. Most years I have to remind myself that one warm day doesn’t mean that spring has arrived.
When this itch strikes, I like to scratch it by starting seeds indoors. And since tomatoes are one of the first seeds I start, they hold a special place in my heart.
So, when should you start Arkansas Traveler seeds indoors?
Seedlings will be ready to transplant about two months after you plant the seeds. Therefore, you should plant seeds about two months before you wish to transplant the seedlings outdoors.
Since tomatoes are sensitive to cold, you should wait until the danger of frost has passed before you place your plants outdoors. If you’re not sure when the last frost will arrive, you can look up the predicted last frost date in your area.
Arkansas Traveler tomatoes are slow to mature, so I recommend planting them outside ASAP. This will allow the tomatoes to produce fruits before cold weather arrives.
Let’s look at an example to clear things up. The last frost date in my area is around April 19, so I will start Arkansas Traveler seeds indoors around February 19.
Once you’ve nailed down your planting date, it’s time to get the seeds in the ground! Gather up all your supplies a week in advance so you’re ready when the big moment arrives.
Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
- A well-draining and rich potting mix like Vermont Compost Fort Vee
- Seed-starting containers: 72-cell trays work well if you’re starting lots of seeds, and 4-inch pots are good for a few plants or potting up seedlings
- Optional heat mat to speed up germination
- Grow lights to support seedlings after they emerge
Start by moistening your potting mix so it is damp but not wet. Fill the containers with potting mix and pack lightly.
Use your finger to make a quarter-inch indent in each container/cell, place one seed in each hole, and cover the seeds with soil. Place somewhere between 65ºF-85ºF.
If the area is warm and you keep the soil moist, the seeds should germinate in 5–8 days.
Once the seedlings have emerged, place the grow lights a few inches above the tops of the plants. Leave the lights on for 12–14 hours during the day and then turn them off for 10–12 hours at night.
If you start your seedlings in smaller containers, you will need to pot them up into larger pots about a month after they’ve germinated. The plants will be ready to transplant outdoors about two months after you plant the seeds.
Regardless of whether you grew your own seedlings or purchased some from a garden center, you’ll want to take the time to acclimate the plants to their new home.
Place the seedlings outside for a few hours during the day, then increase the amount of time the plants spend outdoors until they spend 24 hours outside. At this point, you can plant the tomatoes in the ground.
Be sure to select a location that receives full sun and has well-draining soil.
If you’re planting more than one plant, space individual plants two feet apart.
Once you’ve laid out your plants, dig a six-inch hole for each plant. Place a handful of finished compost in the hole, add a plant, and cover with soil.
If a bit of the plant’s stem is covered with soil, that’s okay! The tomato will develop roots along underground portions of the stem.
Taking care of Arkansas Traveler tomatoes is similar to caring for other types of heirloom tomatoes. You’ll need to provide sufficient water and nutrients, stake and prune the plants, and watch out for pesky pests and diseases.
If you want to set your tomato plants up for success, you should aim to improve the soil before the plants go into the ground. The first to complete this is conducting a soil test.
Take samples from the top six inches of soil and then submit them to a soil testing lab. The lab will then send you a report with the soil pH, soil organic matter, and nutrient composition.
You can follow the report’s recommendations to add any lacking nutrients to the soil in the fall before you plant. However, wait until the spring to add any nitrogen.
Once your plants are in the ground, you should fertilize them about once every 3–4 weeks. Some fertilizers that work well for Arkansas Traveler plants include Jobe’s Organics Vegetable & Tomato Food and Espoma Organic Tomato-Tone.
Read our article for a full explanation of tomato fertilizers.
Like most types of tomatoes, Arkansas Traveler plants prefer consistently moist soil. However, they can tolerate drought and variations in soil moisture better than many other tomato varieties.
That said, it’s a good practice to water your tomato plants every 2–3 days. This will help keep the soil moisture consistent, which will help with nutrient absorption and limit fruit cracking.
Since Arkansas Traveler plants are indeterminate, they can easily grow over six feet tall. While you technically don’t need to trellis the plants, I cannot imagine forgoing this step.
Trellising helps keep plants off the ground which in turn provides many benefits. The plants are less likely to develop diseases, you can fit more plants in your garden, and harvesting becomes easier.
A metal tomato cage is an easy way to contain your Arkansas Traveler plants. Simply place the cage around the plants when they are still small and tuck any sprawling branches back into the cage.
If you’re growing multiple tomato plants in a row, you may want to opt for another trellising method. One option that works well for field-grown tomatoes is the Florida stake and weave method.
To implement this method, follow these steps.
- Insert a six-foot-tall tomato stake into the ground every two to three plants.
- Tie a piece of tomato twine to one stake about six inches above the ground.
- Run the piece of twine along the outside of the tomato plants, pull taut, and then wrap it around the next stake.
- Repeat this process on the other side of the tomato plants. When you’re finished, the plants could be boxed in by the twine.
- Continue to add layers of twine as the plants grow.
Like with trellising, pruning isn’t essential. Even if you don’t remove a single leaf or side shoot, your plant will likely still produce a healthy amount of tomatoes.
That said, pruning can help keep your plants manageable, limit the development and spread of disease, and make it easier to harvest.
I like to prune off the lower leaves. This prevents water from splashing from the ground and onto the plant’s foliage.
As the plants grow more than a few feet tall, I also like to remove excess leaves. This helps increase airflow and keep the plant healthy.
Even if you put in your best effort to keep your plants healthy, pests and diseases can still occur. Knowing what problems to look out for can help you treat and manage issues your plant may face.
Some common pests include sap-sucking creatures like aphids, thrips, and spider mites. While these pests are small, they can rapidly multiply and also spread disease.
Beneficial insects like ladybugs, assassin bugs, and green lacewings can help keep these pests in check. Maintaining a diverse garden and avoiding broad-spectrum insecticides will help these good guys flourish.
Other pests to look out for include caterpillars such as tomato hornworms and armyworm.
Read our article for everything you need to know about tomato pests.
As far as diseases go, Arkansas Traveler plants are susceptible to a fair amount. Some common diseases to look out for include fusarium wilt, early blight, late blight, anthracnose, and verticillium wilt.
Since many of these diseases are hard to treat once they appear, prevention is often the best control. Make sure to rotate where you plant tomatoes each year and only purchase disease-free plants.
You should begin to spot your first ripe tomatoes about three months after you transplant the plants outdoors. Tomatoes will begin to ripen near the ground, so keep an eye on the lower fruits.
Arkansas Traveler fruits will start out light green, develop a light pink blush on the bottom of the fruit, and then turn fully pink. You can pick the tomatoes anytime after they develop a bit of color.
If you pick the fruits when they just begin to blush, you will be able to store them for about one to two weeks at 50ºF. They will slowly ripen over this time.
You can also pick tomatoes when they are fully ripe. However, these tomatoes will only store for a few days.
No matter how ripe the tomatoes are, it’s best to store them somewhere cool and dim. However, avoid placing them in the refrigerator since this can damage the flavor and texture.