The story of the shapes and sizes of tomatoes There’s beefsteak tomatoes, and then there’s a tomato cultivar called Beefsteak, which is, unsurprisingly a beefsteak type. So when a customer asks me for a beefsteak tomato, and I say “Sure, which one?”, I fully understand […]
Indeterminate vs Determinate Tomatoes come in two growth habit types – determinate, or bush varieties, and indeterminate or vining varieties. DICTIONARY: Growth habit of a plant in horticulture refers to the shape, height, form, and general appearance of a plant species. Basically answering the question […]
Welcome to the first in a series of All Things Tomato
Have you browsed your seed catalogs and seen little tags next to plant names saying “F1 Hybrid” or “Open Pollinated”? Have you been told by farmer’s market salesmen about their tomatoes only being “heirlooms”?
So what is the deal with Heirlooms (sometimes called Heritage), Open Pollinated, Hybrid, and F1 Hybrid? *
Simply put, an heirloom tomato is a tomato cultivar whose seeds have been passed down from generation to generation for at least the last 50 to 100 years, and the seeds come true to type in an open pollinated environment.
Tomato connoisseurs love heirlooms, mostly because of their taste. They definitely aren’t (always) the best looking – there are some beauties out there, but generally they don’t produce greatly uniform fruit (supermarket standard), and come in all sorts of strange colours, shapes, and sizes. And they don’t last long. But they really have great taste. Much, much, much better than most standard store-bought red tomatoes (in my opinion).
Examples of heirloom tomatoes are Black Krim, Purple Russian, Green Giant, Hawaiian Pineapple
DICTIONARY: When tomato seeds are said to “come true to type”, it simply means that if you grow a plant from the seed, it will be guaranteed to produce the same shape/colour/size/taste tomato as the parent plant.
What then are Hybrids? Well, hybrids are normally commercially bred, with human interference, by specifically crossing two plants with particular traits to result in a better tomato. So if plant A gives really bright, red fruit that looks good, but tastes a bit bland, it may be crossed with plant B which lacks a good look or good productivity, but produce a better tasting fruit. Once a match is found, a hybrid is created. It must be kind of fun, playing around with hybrids! Some hybrids are created to let us have plants with better disease resistance, or that grow in specific conditions, such as cold areas, or for their particular growing habit traits, such as dwarf cultivars, and even to get plants with an increase in productivity, cross-country shipping etc.
Open pollinated tomatoes
Sometimes hybrids are developed that provide stable offspring, which means, in an open pollinated environment (no human interference, so simply what would happen in nature), they will produce true to type too. So once you have created such a hybrid, it will produce similar offspring each time, you don’t have to recross the original parent plants.
This is pretty much how a lot of heirlooms started, I reckon. Someone played around with cross-pollinating their plants, found the resulting fruit was amazing, and that the seed was stabilized, and year-after-year, it still produces true to the original type, and is now an heirloom.
Example of Open Pollinated tomatoes (that are not yet classified as heiroom): Indigo Rose
F1 hybrids are another thing altogether. Their seed won’t stabilize and come true to type. This means, you’ll always have to cross the two original parents to create the seeds that will result in that particular hybrid. F1 stands for First Generation. So plant A + plant B results in seeds that will grow up to become plant C, but plant C’s seeds will not produce plant C again. They may revert back to either A, or B, or something completely different, but very probably never another C.
Example of F1 hybrids are: Rapunzel
What’s in the shops
Well, that depends, because some savvy shops now provide the discerning customer with a choice, but the stock-standard red globe tomato you find in most supermarkets are most probably hybrids that were chosen for how many tomatoes a plant can produce, in a short time, early in the season, and how uniform they are in size, shape and colour, and very importantly, how well they keep (shelf life). Taste is pretty much last on the list of importance for mass produced tomatoes (own opinion) It’s there… no one will eat a totally disgusting tomato after all. But bland is bland.
The sheer difference in tastes that are available in heirlooms is just astounding – from complex flavours that are deep and dusky in some of the purple tomatoes to uplifting citrus-like flavour in many of the yellow ones.
My list of five favourite heirlooms for taste include:
- Purple Cherokee
- Green Grape
- Purple Russian
- Tommy Toe
- Yellow Pear
*Note that this interpretation is my own, though based on handed-down knowledge, and research. There is much debate around what really constitutes and heirloom, some faculties needing it to be more than 100 years in the growing.
More on growing tomatoes in the next installments…
DID YOU KNOW – Tomatoes come from South America?
DID YOU KNOW – Most original tomatoes were not red?
If you’ve been interested in healing herbs, or alternative medicine, you probably have heard that Echinacea is good for supporting your immune system, and perhaps you even know that a sage or thyme gargle can combat sore throats, and soothing peppermint can relieve congestion. Whether […]
I am feeling impatient, and as the winter runs past longest day, I look toward the new season, and titillate at the possibilities. It has just gone a few days past dark moon – planting time, and I can feel it in my blood…
But it’s still cold. And I don’t have a heated greenhouse. And my house is far too small and too cluttered to even contemplate bringing my seed trays inside.
So, it’s time to rig up the “Hot Boxes” – a homemade contraption that my amazing husband put together that runs strips of LED lights in (sealed) styrofoam boxes. They run between 18C and 24C – ideal germination for my intended chillies. They worked a treat last year to start my tomatoes nice and early. Although, early last year was August – I might be truly pushing my luck with July… but I just can’t wait anymore…
Between 2 and 4 July 2017 I sowed into seedling trays filled with Yates Black Magic Seed Mix (mixed with my own seed starting mix of compost, coir and sand) – the following peppers:
Basket of Fire
Bell Pepper – Jingle Bells
Bell Pepper – Orange Sweetie (Lunchbox)
Bell Pepper – Salad Mix
Bell Pepper – Tequila
Bell Pepper – Yellow Capsicum
Bird’s Eye Chilli
Cayenne (long, red)
Chilli Willy – Red
Devil’s Tongue – yellow
Fiery Little (gifted)
Habanero – chocolate
Habanero – orange
Habanero – red
Habanero – yellow
Hungarian Hot Wax
Jalapeno – early
Jalapeno – flame
Jalapeno – green
Long Italian (gifted)
Naga – chocolate
Naga – red (Bhut)
Pequin St. Croix
Yellow Banana Pepper
Here’s hoping for a good germination rate! Lovely chili and pepper plants will hopefully be for sale mid summer!
And not to be outdone, I simply HAD to start a few tomatoes off too. Sowed between 5 and 7 July 2017 the following tomatoes:
Aunt Ginny’s Purple (HL = Heirloom)
Mr Stripey (HL)
Black Pear (HL)
Banana Legs (OP = Open Pollinated)
Red Pear (cherry) (HL)
Orange Banana (HL)
Orange Beefsteak (HL)
Thai Pink (HL)
Indigo Fireball (Hyb F1 = F1 Hybrid) – these were seeds saved from last year’s F1, so who knows what will come up! Adventures!
Jaune Flamme (HL)
And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what tomatoes I’m going to grow this season! But more on that later.
Heirloom and Open Pollinated Tomato Selection Photograph Description Fruit Size Fruit Colour Fruit Type Maturity Uses Amish Orange Sherbet Heirloom Tomato Amish Orange Sherbet is a good producer of orange-red beefsteak type tomatoes that are large and meaty with a mild, sweet flavour that is […]