Heirloom tomatoes aren’t pretty, but can be fun to grow

Tomato Old German courtesy Terra Organic
Tomato ‘Old German’. It has outstanding flavor and few seeds. The fruit can weigh one pound or more. Photo courtesy Terra Organic

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Heirloom tomatoes may look weird to you. They’re purple or creamy yellow or even striped. And that’s why some people like them.

“From that angle, they’re really fun,” said Jen Weber, retail manager at Mike Weber Greenhouses, 42 French Rd., West Seneca.

You can buy heirloom tomatoes now at Mike Weber Greenhouses, and if you want to plant them now, go for it, Weber said. She has checked with Western New York  farmers and they are planting their tomatoes now and the plants aren’t covered.

Heirloom tomatoes are the old fashioned varieties of plants that were grown generations ago. They were open pollinated; that is, one variety was in a garden near another variety and they mixed to form a new variety.

“It happens naturally,” Weber said. “They’re like those little volunteers that come up in your garden. The seeds from those have been saved.”

Some gardeners like the heritage and folklore associated with heirloom vegetables. You can exhibit your heirloom vegetables at the Fall Festival featuring the Agricultural Fair to be held Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 4 and 5 at the Genesee Country Village and Museum, 1410 Flint Hill Rd., Mumford.

In creating modern varieties of tomatoes, hybridizers didn’t leave things to chance. They crossed particular varieties of the heirloom plants to get plants until they got the traits they wanted, such as a tomato with a nice red color.

They got plants that are more resistant to disease, too. That’s one drawback of the open pollinated heirloom tomatoes that you should be aware of. Because they’re not as resistant to disease, they’re harder to grow, Weber said.

Still, people like to try them just to see what they taste like, she said.

Weber noted that seed companies are creating new varieties of tomatoes with odd colors. Even though those varieties are hybridized and not open pollinated, some people consider them heirloom tomatoes because they look like heirloom tomatoes.

Check out some of the heirloom tomatoes that are available at Mike Weber Greenhouses.

Tomato CherokeePurple courtesy Burpee Home Gardens
Tomato ‘Cherokee Purple.’ The skin is dusky pink with dark shoulders. The flesh ranges from purple to brown to green. It looks attractive sliced on a plate. It has a rich and full flavor that is often compared to the popular Brandywine Red, which you can see in the last photo. Photo courtesy Burpee Home Gardens
Tomato Black Prince courtesy Johnny's Select
Tomato ‘Black Prince’. The flavorful tomatoes are mahogany brown and become orange-red at the blossom end; they get a deep color in sunnier locations. These tomatoes have less cracking than other heirlooms. Photo courtesy Johnny’s Select

 

 

Tomato Delicious courtesy Semins
Tomato ‘Delicious’. It produces huge tomatoes weighing up to a pound. As its name implies, it has delicious flavor. Photo courtesy Seminis
Tomato Jubilee courtesy Burpee Home Gardens
Tomato ‘Jubilee’. The round, smooth, golden orange fruit is meaty with few seeds. It has a mild flavor and low acidity. The plant resists the fungal disease Alternaria. Photo courtesy Burpee Home Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomato Black Krim courtesy Burpee Home Gardens
Tomato “BlackKrim”. Dark red-purple fruit with green shoulders and delicate skin has very juicy, green-tinted flesh. Must be staked or caged. Photo courtesy Burpee Home Gardens

 

Tomato Brandywine Red courtesy Burpee Home Gardens
Tomato ‘Brandywine Red’. These tomatoes have reddish-pink skin and very tasty red flesh. The large-lobed, beefsteak-shaped tomatoes are perfect for slicing. They are thin-skinned and not acidic. The plant is higher yielding in cooler weather. Photo courtesy Burpee Home Gardens

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