Do you follow #tomato on Instagram? There are 5.8 Million posts of this most delicious fruit. Yes, we can buy tomatoes all year long here in South Central PA, but how many of us can’t wait for those precious few months when we can grow or buy them local! Count me in! It’s finally spring and time to start thinking about planting our gardens! YEASSS!
We recently had the great opportunity to visit good friends in Florida. Knowing how much we love farming, they took us to a Florida farm where we could buy fresh picked flowers, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet corn and more. Lordy, it was pure paradise for Rick and I. We both grew up on farms. As children, when our families took car rides (yes, it was an experience, not an every day event typically ending with ice cream 🙂 our dads were always observing other farmer’s fields. I still crane my neck to see how all the crops are growing and wishing the farmer who planted them all the best as I pass by LOL! Farming is not for the faint of heart….
Anyhow, I posted a photo on Facebook of a lovely pile of Heirloom tomatoes that were for sale at the farm we visited in Florida. I had a lot of questions about what kind of tomatoes they were, so I thought there may be more questions that I could answer. I am by no means an expert on tomatoes or growing them, but I do know what I like and a few things about the different types of tomatoes. I’m still learning. There is a lot to learn…
Here is my little unofficial tutorial. There are three different varieties of tomatoes:
Open Pollinated (non-hybrids): This variety will produce the same tomato plant year after year if you save the seeds.
Heirloom: They have a history. Either a family history or commercial history. The variety must be at least 50 years old (or introduced before 1940) and typically have a great taste! All heirlooms are open-pollinated but not all open pollinated are heirlooms. Confusing, right…? If you save the seeds of an heirloom tomato, you will grow the same plant year after year.
Hybrid: This is the variety that we have gotten used to. It has been cross bred to exhibit the best characteristics of varieties. They have been bred to withstand shipping and have a longer shelf life. They are usually a very pretty tomato too. We all like that, right? The hybrid seeds can be saved, but you will not get the same tomato plant.
Tomatoes can be determinate and indeterminate……WHAT??? No quiz later, I promise!
Determinate Tomatoes are short bushy types (can still get up to 2-3′ typically) and the fruit matures within the same time frame. There are early, mid and late season varieties.
Indeterminate Tomatoes provide fruit all season long till frost, however will grow quite large and need a lot of support (can get up to 6’ish). I believe most heirloom varieties are indeterminate so you would need a lot of room in your garden for them.
When you are shopping for your tomato plants or seeds, all the info about whether it is a determinate, indeterminate, hybrid, heirloom, open pollinated, etc will be on the tag or on the seed packet.
Here at Family Tree Farm, we have sold heirloom varieties (which, in my opinion, are the most delicious and have that wonderful tomato taste that we long for all winter) at our roadside stand. They are not big sellers. It’s so hard for the heirloom to compete visually against a hybrid. We all want those beautiful red, round, large slicer tomatoes for our BLT’s. The heirlooms come in all different colors and sizes and can develop some really weird shapes!
Last year I snuck in a couple Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes along with the hybrids we planted. Their taste was divine. The plants got crazy big and I didn’t do a very good job of keeping them off the ground, but still harvested lots of them for my own delight! I did share some with Rick. He had to agree, they were delish!
I’m going to sneak more heirlooms in this year…..shhhh, don’t tell Rick. I just have to do a better job of keeping them off the ground……
If you want to know more about heirloom tomatoes, I would recommend www.tomatofest.com. They have an awesome site with lots of heirloom info and seed varieties.
Happy Spring Folks!
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