Thursday, March 31, 2011

Heirloom Tomatoes and where to find them

I love growing tomatoes. Of everything in my garden they are the most versatile and the most popular in my family! Last year, my plants reached six to eight feet in length and nearly overwhelmed me with fruit. Nearly... I canned 10 quarts of juice, 20 quarts of whole tomatoes, 10 quarts of tomato sauce, 30 pints of salsa, 6 half pints of hot sauce, and 8 half pints of love apple jelly (tomato, herb, pepper jelly - very tasty on everything bagels). My oldest child and I ate a metric ton of fresh tomato sandwiches, cherry tomatoes, chopped tomatoes on salads, tacos, etc. My garden tomatoes spoiled us completely. They have so much more flavor and depth than grocery store tomatoes.

This February, I started 200 tomato seeds in home made newspaper pots. Of those 200, I've got around 130 decent sized juvenile tomato plants. They are around 2-4 inches tall depending on strain, growing medium, and how I have treated them. (They were left out in the cold one night, and I'm surprised so many of them survived.). I think I've done okay with my tomato seed starts this year.

Tonight I went into my laboratory (read: my upstairs kitchen that looks like a pot farm because of all the grow lights) and sorted out a tray of plants to take to my parents for their garden. I wanted to give them a good variety, so I took out a few of each strain.

I am growing nine strains of tomato this year - all heirloom varieties purchased from one of my favorite seed catalogs, Victory Seed Company. I have always received wonderful quality seeds from them. They come in a paper packet like most seeds. What makes Victory unique is how all their seeds are also packaged in a plastic zip top baggie inside their paper pouches. This guarantees your seeds stay safe and dry for a few years if all your seed is not used in one season. Their seeds arrive quite promptly, are packaged very well, and their customer service is excellent. I highly recommend them if you are interested in heirlooms. I also ordered almost all of my other seeds from them as well this year.

Given that I've said I am growing nine varieties, you might be wondering which ones and why would I grow those particular varieties over all the others. I narrowed my choices by trying to get as many different flavors, colors and sizes as possible. I also chose some varieties I have grown and been pleased with in the past. Here are the descriptions taken directly from Victory Seed's web site along with my reasons for growing them:

2011 Tomato Varieties

"3401311 Brandywine Sudduth Strain Tomato
80 days, indeterminate — Potato-leaf plants produce large (fourteen to thirty six ounce fruits) that are oblate in shape and pink in color. Excellent flavor. This variety originally is from the Ben Quisenberry collection who reportedly obtained the seed from a Mrs. Doris Sudduth Hill who said that it had been in her family since about 1900. Our seed stock was originally sent to us by David Pendergrass. Click here for more Brandywine history. Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

I have been growing Brandywines for three years now. They produce gigantic fruit that look awfully pretty on a tomato sandwich:

"3401771 Curry Tomato
90 days, indeterminate — An old family heirloom. The regular leaf plants produce large, pink, delicious, beefsteak-type fruits. Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

I grew Curry Tomatoes last year and they made a really great spaghetti sauce. They were heavy, flavorful, and had a good meat to seed ratio.

"3401801 Grandpa Charlie Tomato
90 days, indeterminate — Large (up to one pound), pink fruits that have a mildly tart, good full flavor. The plants are potato leaf. Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

It is probably a silly reason to grow this variety, but my kids call my wonderful step dad "Grandpa Charlie" and I just really thought everyone would get a kick out of growing "Grandpa Charlie Tomatoes". Charlie always grows really beautiful tomatoes too and has really been a big inspiration to me in my gardening endeavors. So growing these are kind of a tribute to him.

(The picture above is not a "grandpa Charlie tomato", but it does look a little like him and it came from his garden!)

"3401811 Improved Colossal Red Tomato
95 days, indeterminate — Released in 1948 by the old Burgess Seed and Plant Company that used to be in Galesburg, Michigan.

It produces nice red fruits. A wonderful slicer, good balance of sweet and tart, great texture, very meaty.

See also 'Improved Colossal Yellow'
Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

Note the word Colossal... That is the one and only reason I ordered these seeds!

"3401921 Siletz Tomato
70 days, determinate — Released by Oregon State University in 1994.

Early set of near seedless fruit that are red and large (up to a pound). Good, mild, slightly tart flavor. Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

Don't know why I ordered these, but I really hope they do better once they are in the garden than they have done in the pots. They look a little wimpy right now.

"3400911 Cherokee Chocolate Tomato
80 days, indeterminate — Sets fruit that are the same size as 'Cherokee Purple' but the color dark crimson red with shoulders that are brownish-black. It appears to be a stable skin color mutation of 'Cherokee Purple'. Excellent flavor and flesh texture. Sweet, slightly tart, firm but very juicy flesh. Nice slicer.

A variety that originated in the garden of heirloom tomato collector Craig LeHoullier and was introduced to the general public by the Victory Seed Company in 2004. Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

I've grown the Cherokee Purples, which are delicious and thought I'd give these a go.

"3400251 Cherokee Purple Tomato
80 days, indeterminate — Given to heirloom tomato collector Craig LeHoullier by J. D. Green of Tennessee, it is at least 100 years old and was reported as originally grown by the Cherokee Indians. The fruits are large (twelve to sixteen ounces), dark pink with darker purple shoulders. Excellent complex flavor, slight sweet aftertaste, perfect slicer for tomato sandwiches! Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

Yummy pink tomato with a long history. Seriously tasty. They are really have the most depth of any tomato ever eaten. When the description says "complex flavor", they mean it!

(pictured above, my then four year old with a Cherokee Purple that was quite literally the size of his head. It weighed 2.7 lbs)

"3400981 Royal Red Cherry Tomato
70 days, indeterminate — Not only a beautiful fruit, the taste is equal to that of a good red tomato. The plants have heavy foliage with abundant yields. The fruits are nearly perfectly globe shaped, brilliant red, and weigh in the two to three ounce range. Although it is not the Livingston's 'Royal Red' that I was seeking, it is a pleasant find. Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

If I don't grow cherry tomatoes, my oldest son will have a fit. These are really tasty in salads.

"3400821 Livingston's Honor Bright Tomato
90 days, indeterminate — According to Alexander Livingston himself, 'Honor Bright' was, "a sport found in a field of Stone tomatoes in 1894" and released in 1897. The plant is quite unique exhibiting yellowish (lutescent), regular leafed foliage, cream colored flowers, medium sized fruits that turn from green to white to yellow to orange to red.

VSC Note: We obtained seeds, called 'Lutescent', from tomato collector Craig LeHoullier who located them within the National Seed Storage Laboratory. They fit the description of 'Honor Bright' and are presumed to be one in the same.

A very unique and interesting tomato. The plants look sickly with young green leaves turning pale yellow. This is its normal appearance attributed to a specific genetic trait. The color changes of the fruit is also an unusual show. Each packet contains approximately 20 seeds."

I really thought the description of this tomato plant was very interesting. The plants do look sickly! I'm really interested to see how they do in my garden!

Tomatoes really are the star of my garden. They give me the most pleasure, the most family meals for my efforts, and a real feeling of accomplishment. If there is one plant that should be in every garden, it is a nice healthy tomato.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

No comments:

Post a Comment