Try Your Hand at Growing Heirloom Tomatoes
Tomatoes are without a doubt the most popular fruit in America, if not the world. People love growing them, eating them, and often bragging about who has the first, biggest, tastiest or most unusual. Many of the varieties available today for planting in the garden, or from the market for eating are lacking in "that good ole timey tomato flavor" we're all looking for. The quest for that elusive quality led me some years ago into the magical world of organically grown heirloom tomatoes.
An heirloom tomato is an open pollinated (non-hybrid) variety that has been around for 50 years or more. Many have been passed down in families or communities, while others are older commercial varieties. The stories that come along with them are fascinating; adding another dimension to the fun.
Growing heirloom tomatoes makes sense for so many reasons. We can save seeds from year to year, unlike hybrids. Just as importantly, we're preserving part of our heritage and history, as well as our genetic plant base. One of the most appealing things about these tomatoes is their diversity. Heirloom tomatoes are so varied in size, shape and color…they're just beautiful. But even more than appearances, their flavors are unmatched. From tangy to tart, fruity to smoky, sweet to sublime, there is a taste to appeal to everyone. They are truly a feast for the palate as well as the eyes.
One of the biggest challenges is choosing which ones to grow. We personally have over 100 different varieties. Often folks will ask which is my favorite, and that is about like asking which is my favorite child…I love each of them. They each bring their uniqueness to the table.
Growing heirloom tomatoes sustainably is pretty much the same as growing any tomato. Choose strong healthy plants; plant them deep with lots of compost along with lime and a complete fertilizer. We add all sorts of other natural goodies like kelp (specifically "Nature's Nog"), Epsom salts, manures, rock phosphate, wood ashes. It seems everyone has his or her special recipies for amending the soil.
These tomatoes are generally indeterminate, or tall vigorous growers, and will need staking, or supporting in some way. We like cages made from rolls of concrete reinforcing wire. Next, we mulch well with newspaper and then straw. Be sure to keep them watered evenly through the season, and be prepared to spray regularly to prevent diseases…for us it is most often late blight. We have found that alternating sprays of liquid copper, and a product called Serenade, to be a very effective natural solution to this serious problem.
Before long it will be time to pick and enjoy. There is nothing quite like a naturally grown heirloom tomato. The bottom line is that we do it all for the tomato sandwiches.
Thankfully, it's easier than ever to find heirloom tomatoes. Be sure and check out your local farmer's markets.