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An Essay on My Tomatoes: To Be Or Not To Be Heirloom; Quite Nice Either Way

Soon I'll be updating this page regularly. :-)

Last year, the surge for planting heirloom tomatoes reached a great height. No one was interested in why I always plant Rutgers, Early Girl, and Super Sweet 100 along with a few heirloom varieties each year, they only wanted to know if they were "heirloom." I realized that for some people, "heirloom" was a type of tomato; they did not understand what the word meant at all, other than perhaps "old-fashioned and therefore better."

First let me say as an aside, I wish people would start leading a charge on heirloom apples, because I miss some of the varieties of childhood. 

But anyway. "heirloom" isn't a tomato variety. There are great reasons to grow both types of varieties. Rutgers tomatoes were developed for farmers to sell to stores. They are a solid predictable producer, utterly reliable and good for general use. You can get heirloom Rutgers seeds, but they are actually a derivative of the original variety, which is no longer produced commercially. I love Early Girls because produce early and they produce a lot. Super Sweet 100s, same thing, only in cherry tomato size. 

Some people love Big Boys or Big Berthas or Beefsteak varieties. They've all developed over the years to be enjoyed in different ways. (As are peppers, and squashes, eggplants, onions, beans, etc.) Some are higher in acidity than others. 

Each year I grow German Johnson because I love big pink tomatoes, and they are low in acid for a couple family members who benefit from that. Each year I grow some kind of yellow tomato, and I also choose something I never tried before, just to see how it turns out. The Black Krims last year were amazing, and the Yellow Brandywines were like, just beautiful on their seven foot plant, and so tasty, my god. This is an example of a problem with heirlooms; the Yellow Brandywine plant was developed to be pretty tough; the Black Krim was not. Both tasted so fantastic. But the Black Krim was not really hardy enough for what last season threw at it. 

This year for fun I have a Mr. Stripey and a Cherokee Purple. I'm looking forward to seeing how they do with the others. The yellow pear tomato plants I grew from seed are a bit stunted, but I intend to coax them along and see what I get. If all else fails, I'll hunt one down at a fancy nursery, just to see what it will give me.

Some of these are heirlooms, the others are hybrids. I can save and use the heirloom seeds, and they won't have been cross-pollinated by the hybrids. But they are all very different from each other. Some are determinate; they crop all at once, and some are indeterminate, growing and producing for weeks. 

If you say, "Oh, I'm growing heirlooms" but don't know what you have, well, good luck to you. Sprinkle coffee grounds and eggshells around the base. Remove early lower branches as they touch the ground. Mulch after about six weeks, but be careful of which you use, don't use pine. Plant stinky French marigolds nearby to fight bugs, and basil to do the same plus improve flavor. (Do you know how many varieties of basil there are? And how they got that way? Plant cultivation is super interesting.) You might have a great strong plant that produces well, and if so, it will taste super, but you might also have one that can't handle the bugs in your yard or inconsistent weather, or is very finicky about producing. 

Here's some material for you to read. 

Discovery May Lead to New Tomato Varieties With Vintage Flavor and Quality

What About the Rutgers Tomato?

"Heirlooms are the tomato equivalent of the pug..."