Saturday, September 08, 2007

Heirloom Tomatoes

This past May I purchased some tomato plants at the farmer's market from an Old Order Mennonite vendor who told me that they were grown from heirloom seeds that his family had saved from season to season for over forty years. I love vine ripened tomatoes that are available in the late summer and fall, but have found the ones in the stores to be disappointing in flavour this year. I picked some of the beefsteak tomatoes from the garden today and finally experienced the sweetness and taste I expect from a fresh tomato.

Modern cultivars are bred for disease resistance and uniformity. Thicker skins allow for packing and distance travel and taste is secondary to appearance and durability. Heirlooms are often prone to cracking and disease and need to be watched carefully to prevent fungal diseases from developing on the fruit. I bought four cherry tomato plants at the same place, but they are not a heirloom variety. But they have been very productive and sweet to eat.

One of the palliative patients at the hospital saved the seeds from the cherry tomatoes in his salads last winter, dried them and planted them indoors. Penny, our recreational therapist, put the seedlings in raised flower beds at the back of the building and has been tending them all summer. They have grown well and the patients who are able to go and do a little gardening have been picking the fruit. Those are heirloom tomatoes of a different definition. The sower of the seed is gone, but his labours live on and bring pleasure to others. (Let the reader interpret the meaning of this parable!)

I am going to save some seeds from my heirloom tomatoes this year and see how they grow next season. Even though they are not the prettiest, they are the tastiest tomatoes of the season.

Have you saved seeds or planted heirloom plants in your garden?


  1. Anonymous1:26 am GMT-4

    I believe I planted some heirloom tomatoes in a garden I had as a child. I will never forget the taste of sunrippened tomatoes though, store bought it simply bland. Michael and my new place is large enough to have a couple plants, I am looking forward to that!

    How do you save the tomato seeds? You you dry them from ripe tomatoes or let them rot some and then pull them out?

    I have a friend who has some 20 heirloom tomato and onion plants and if I can him some of my salsa he will be sharing the wealth when they ripen. Yum!

  2. Your tomatoes look beautiful. I admit I'm not a seed saver, but I buy heirloom seeds whenever I find them.

  3. I've never planted heirloom tomatoes but reading this made me think about the tomato season here this year. There were only about three weeks of good, homegrown, sweet tomatoes, to be enjoyed. We normally enjoy almost two full months of good tomatoes. I guess our unusually and dry summer made a difference.

  4. Anonymous3:18 pm GMT-4

    We cannot compete with ants here for tomatoes & the store ones have no flavor. I planted 5 seeds and they are also heirlooms. One is a daughter who through her blog is planting wonderful seeds. Another is an heirloom of hers that is incredible working with her uncle touching the untouchables esp. children. I am blessed!!!!
    Mexico Mom

  5. Jaspenelle- I hope you have room for a little garden at your new place. I have never saved seeds before except for my arugula. I took some tomato seeds today and put them in a paper towel to dry them. I hope I remember to plant them in April.
    I didn't make salsa this year. I like mine very hot.

    Pam- I have trouble transplanting indoor starters to the outdoors in the spring. I have a grow light, but obviously don't harden the seedlings properly.

    Mary- I am sure the heat and drought didn't help the tomatoes. I was even disappointed in the market tomatoes.

    Mom- You are the parable interpretor for sure! We all plant seeds, even bad ones at times. Hopefully we just cultivate the good ones.

  6. Hi Ruth,
    I have never planted heirloom tomatoes, but after reading your post and others this summer, I'm going to try it next year. I've been a little disappointed with how my tomatoes are turning out this summer. (I think a good dose of compost and some organic fertilizer in my garden patch will help also for next season)

  7. I love Beefsteak Tomatoes and Giant Plum Tomatos-very meaty.-The Beefsteaks are tough to grow because they often split.


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