Posted on 04 March 2011 by

What is Old is New Again in the World of Tomatoes

By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

The old saying that everything old is new again is so true even today.

Second-hand stores and goodwill stores pop up everywhere along with vintage clothing and household stores.

This movement is not limited to clothing and furniture but can also be found in the garden.

Heirloom plants are coming to the for front more and more especially as one scans the seed catalogs and visits vegetable and/or herbal sales this year.

Heirloom tomato seeds or plants can add a touch of nostalgia to any garden space or planter. But while beautiful heirloom tomatoes do differ from domesticated tomato plants one may find at the local feed and seed or home improvement center.

Heirloom plants can be defined in two different ways depending on your own definition of heirloom. One definition is a cultivator that is 100 years old or older while the other defines a heirloom as a cultivator that pre-dates 1945. Heirloom plants are open pollinators and what one plants is what you get but which is very different then what you get from hybrids.

The concept of plant hybridization was started after WWII to make plants more resistant to diseases and make the fruits of these plants more transportable. Today we can see this innovation in every grocery store as one passes the produce section but there are problems with hybridization.

Hybridization occurs when plants are cross-pollinated for certain characteristic such as insect or plant disease resistant but the seeds produced from this cross can be a mixed bag of characteristics. And the more hybridization occurs the less diverse plant genetics becomes and the more we lose those tomatoes just like Grandma but the solution to this genetic dilemma is heirlooms.

When selecting heirloom tomatoes keep in mind that for every characteristic that a hybrid may have there does exist an heirloom that has that same characteristic. Heirloom tomatoes come in over 600 varieties and with this vast selection there is no reason why you cannot find one to plant in the garden. Examples of heirloom tomatoes include but not limited to Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Red Pear, and Amish paste.

When adding heirloom tomatoes to the garden make sure that they are not mixed with hybrids especially if you plan to save the seeds. Hybrids and heirloom will cross-pollinate and the trueness of the heirloom variety will be lost. Also heirlooms tend to not produce as much fruit so some type of adjustment may need to be made to guarantee that you have enough tomatoes to get you through the season. But through it all heirlooms are worth the effort to experience the taste of nostalgia.

So until we blog again, Times have changed and tomato cultivators vary, but nostalgia will win over store bought infatuation. Try your Grandmother’s favorite for her jam, jellies, and wine while reducing the genetically challenged kind. While science is great and fine nothing beats what has been around since the beginning of time.

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