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Sherva’s Tomato Obsession: It’s the Year of the Heirloom Tomato

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heirloom tomatoes

Sherva admittedly has a tomato obsession. How else could you explain having a library of 200 heirloom tomato seeds and growing 42 different varieties?

Listen to Podcast Episode 9: Sherva’s Heirloom Tomato Obsession

Each year the University of Maryland Extension picks a vegetable to highlight. This year, 2024, is the Year of the Heirloom Tomato. They will be providing lots of information on growing heirloom tomatoes, so keep an eye on their website.

The Difference Between Heirloom and Hybrid Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated varieties that have been passed down through generations. They are often prized for their unique flavors, colors, and shapes. Every heirloom tomato tends to have more diverse characteristics compared to hybrids and is typically grown for its taste and historical significance.

Hybrid tomatoes, on the other hand, are created by cross-pollinating two different tomato varieties to produce offspring with specific desired traits, such as disease resistance, uniform size, or longer shelf life. Hybrids are bred for consistency and productivity rather than maintaining the genetic diversity found in heirloom varieties. While hybrids may offer benefits like increased yield or disease resistance, they may not always have the same distinctive flavors as heirlooms.

Benefits of Growing Heirloom Tomato

If you listen to this episode of our podcast, you’ll hear us “ohh and ahh” over some of the varieties of heirlooms that Sherva is growing. To the tomato lover, this is the main reason to grow heirlooms. They have unique flavors, colors, and textures. They are also beautiful to the eye, each like a work of art. The appearance of our food is important because we know that digestion starts long before the food hits your mouth. It starts when you see the colors and smell the aromas.

Another benefit of growing heirloom tomatoes is that you can save the seeds and get the same plant next year. This is not possible with hybrids. And thus, the seed-trading hobby is born. As Sherva demonstrates, you can trade your way to 400 seed varieties and much more. This opens a world of gardening and gastronomical delight!

Pink Berkley Tie-Dye heirloom tomato
Pink Berkley Tie-Dye Heirloom Tomato: A Work of Art!

Special Issues Growing an Heirloom Tomato

Growing heirlooms is not difficult if you have proper expectations. No, they may not be as easy as hybrids, but they will be well worth the effort. Here are some common issues:

  1. Disease Susceptibility: Heirloom tomatoes may be more susceptible to certain diseases compared to hybrid varieties. This susceptibility can vary depending on the specific heirloom variety and environmental conditions. Gardeners may need to implement proactive measures, such as crop rotation and proper sanitation practices, to minimize the risk of disease.
  2. Inconsistent Yield: Heirloom tomatoes often produce a more varied yield compared to hybrids. Some heirloom varieties may have lower yields or be less reliable in terms of fruit size, shape, and quantity. This is why commercial growers don’t often grow heirlooms.
  3. Limited Shelf Life: Certain heirloom tomatoes may have a shorter shelf life compared to hybrid varieties. This is partly due to their diverse genetic backgrounds, which can result in softer skins or more delicate flesh. As a result, heirloom tomatoes may not store or transport as well as hybrids.

Some Quick Growing Tips for Heirloom Tomatoes

When you plant them out in the garden, give them a good start with an all-purpose organic fertilizer and some calcium in the hole. Sherva and I both make our own eggshell powder out of baked eggshells. Sherva also uses shrimp peels.

Add a mulch around the plants to help with moisture retention and weed suppression. It also helps when watering to keep diseases at a minimum. Sometimes pathogens in the dirt can splash up onto the leaves. Mulch should be a regular part of your garden, no matter what you’re planting.

As your plants grow, prune off the bottom leaves and branches. These won’t be needed for photosynthesis and pruning will help keep disease at a minimum. If possible, continue pruning up the plant as it grows. This will help with airflow, also minimizing disease.

Remember to water the ground, not the plant. Try to only water in the morning, but if it is a hot, dry day, certainly watering in the afternoon is necessary. Water deeply at longer intervals when possible.

Without further ado:

Sherva’s 2024 Heirloom Tomato List:

Cherries:

  1. Green Bumblebee
  2. Rosella
  3. Reinhardt’s Purple Sugar
  4. Apricot Zebra
  5. Sweet Aperitif

Dwarfs:

  1. Ruby Slippers
  2. Dwarf Awesome
  3. Dwarf Sweet Baby Jade
  4. Dwarf MulatkaAmish Sherbet
  5. Dwarf Metallica
  6. Dwarf Sweet Scarlet

Paste:

  1. Giant Pear Franchi
  2. Jerusalem
  3. Bull Goldheart
  4. Rebel Star Fighter Prime
  5. Orange Russian 117
  6. Everetts Rusty Heart

Green:

  1. First Mate
  2. Malachite Box
  3. Abraham Green
  4. Xanadu Green Goddess

Yellow/Orange:

  1. Amish Sherbet
  2. Lucky Cross
  3. Sunrise Jazz
  4. Yoko Persimmon

Dark & Red:

  1. Cherokee Purple Bi-Color
  2. Pink Berkley Tie-Die
  3. Australian Giant
  4. Aussie
  5. Chesapeake Heirloom
  6. Early Love
  7. El Amar
  8. Polaris
  9. Dester
  10. Granny’s Throw-In
  11. apricot Brandywine
  12. Maraudo
  13. Big Yellow Simpson
  14. Beauty Lot Ringer
  15. Cleota Pink
  16. Crushed Heart
  17. Reinhardt Purple Heart

We hope you will try at least one heirloom tomato this season. If you do an internet search and learn more about each variety, you’re sure to find something that delights your green thumb! Happy Gardening!

Heirloom Tomato

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