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Heirloom Tomatoes

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Heirloom tomatoes are varieties that can be planted year after year from the seeds of succeeding generations of plants. This is because the particular characteristics have been bred into them. These plants are not recent hybrids (created from the crossing of different varieties). Heirloom tomatoes (called heritage in the United Kingdom) are by definition open pollinated and are not scientifically genetically modified. Some even place a date on the origination of heirloom cultivars, saying they must be at least 50 or 100 years old (rather like antiques). Another definition is that an heirloom cultivar must have existed before 1945 - the end of World War II.

Heirloom tomatoes are popular because they produce a consistent crop year after year. Saving the seeds of a single tomato from a vine will ensure that there are tomatoes in the future. The problem with hybrids is that the seeds of the plant will have unpredictable results. However, they are generally more resistant to diseases such as tobacco mosaic virus, verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes. At the time of this writing genetically modified tomato plants are not available for home planting.

There are literally hundreds of heirloom varieties or cultivars. We will list a few of the more popular:

  • Arkansas Traveler was developed in the 1800s. It was grown mainly in the Southern United States. Red-pink, high-quality fruits, 5-7 ounces are produced on an indeterminate vine. It is well-suited to high heat and drought conditions. It takes 80-85 days from transplant to ripe fruit.1
  • Jelly BeanThis cherry-grape tomato has small, bite-sized fruits. The sides are flattened slightly like a jelly bean. Flavor is similar to most cherry tomatoes. Vines bear heavily, with fruits in large clusters of up to 30 each. Plants are indeterminate. Takes 60-65 days from transplant to bear fruit.
  • Red Cherry Tomato is one of the larger cherry tomatoes. It is typically used for salads. The plant produces abundantly. This is a variety that was originally developed in the 1880s.
  • Red Oxheart is a heart shaped variety from Italy. It is a meaty tomato that is very good for making sauce. It is determinate and takes 80 days from transplant to bear fruit.
  • San Marzano is an elongated, plum-type tomato that is three to five inches long. The fruits have very few seeds. It is most often used for pasta sauces. Vines are prolific.
  • Siberian Red is, as might be expected, from Russia. It sets fruit in cool weather. It ripens early, performing well even in short growing seasons. There are a large number of brilliant red fruits weighing from 3-5 ounces. This is a determinate variety.

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