Author Topic: Why I don't Grow Heirloom Tomatoes And Why People Keep Asking For Them.  (Read 5106 times)

joseph

  • Administrator
  • Jr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 69
    • View Profile
    • Garden.Lofthouse.com
People are constantly asking me for "Heirloom Tomatoes" at the farmer's market. To make my life easier for myself, I end up saying 'No heirlooms here', even though what I am growing is exactly what they are really asking for. The farmer's market doesn't seem like the right venue to be explaining definitions, and nuances of history, and tasting panels, and inbreeding, and uniform ripening genes. On market day, I feel like I should be a farmer, not a teacher...

Some people are willing to say that varieties that were released this growing season are heirlooms. I'm not one of those people. To me, the most straight forward definition of heirloom is a variety that has been grown for 50 to 60 years or more... So that means many many generations of inbreeding. I have trialed about a  hundred varieties of heirloom tomatoes. There weren't any of them that grew well enough on my farm to want to grow again. What's up with that? Heirlooms were developed for specific farms... There are not any heirlooms that I can find that were developed specifically for my farm, or even for my region... DX52-12 comes close, because it was developed for Box Elder County, but it's only 45 years old, so a bit shy of fitting conservative definitions of heirloom. So putting all that together, heirlooms are varieties that were developed in far away lands and times and have been intensely inbred ever since... They often lack resistance to modern agricultural pests and diseases, and are not locally adapted. It's no wonder they don't grow well for me.

So why are people asking for heirlooms? Turns out that tasting panels have found that most people prefer the taste of tomatoes with the 'green shoulder' gene, and not the 'uniform ripening' gene that modern commercial tomatoes contain. So uglier tomatoes taste better...  But uglier in a specific way, 'green shoulders' and not catfacing or fluting or cracking which are so common among heirlooms. Sophisticated buyers would be able to look at the tomatoes on the table and see with their own eyes whether they are 'uniform ripening' or 'green shouldered'. There is no reason to ask the farmer. If a tomato is green shouldered, does it really matter whether it is a modern hybrid created by the farmer, or if it's an open pollinated tomato that was created 5 years ago? Or 60 years ago?

I see plant sellers around here selling heirlooms that are totally unsuited to our climate and soils. I wonder to myself if they have a conscience? Or if they are just plain ignorant about what they are selling? I wonder why people keep buying the same old heirlooms that fail them year after year? When I sell a tomato plant, it is locally adapted and it's ancestors have a proven track record of high productivity in spite of our current bugs, germs, weather, and soils. I am constantly selecting for tomatoes that grow great under the modern growing conditions in our valley. I allow great varieties to cross with other great varieties. Inbreeding is discouraged on my farm.

People often say that commercial tomatoes taste like cardboard. I attribute that to a gene that makes them hard so they can be shipped long distances and sold weeks or months after being picked. Heirlooms typically lack that trait. I select against cardboard texture in my locally-adapted modern-adapted varieties. I can't even get my tomatoes ten miles to market without significant losses.

Who's attention span is that long at the farmer's market? It's easier just to say that I don't grow heirlooms.

Green Shouldered Tomatoes:


keen101

  • Global Moderator
  • Newbie
  • *****
  • Posts: 22
  • Loveland, Colorado
    • View Profile
    • My Blog
Joseph. This is a great topic, and one i'd like to discuss more on in greater depth. I too am against growing heirlooms just because they are heirlooms. And like you, most do poorly in my garden and climate too. Finding any tomato that grows well and produces abundantly (or at least more than scantily) is a miracle. I will admit my tomato skills are lacking though and i should put more effort into the species.

But there does seem to be something to the fact that heirloom tomatoes do taste better. I personally like the strange lumpy multicolored ones. Sometimes with dark shading. I think its more than just avoiding store bred anti ripening genes. I think they have more complex flavors.

I once tried growing cherokee purple. It grew pitifully. But in hindsight since cherokee purple is so widely grown i do now wonder if the seeds i had were adapted for eastern gardens or oregon gardens, etc. Perhaps there is a source out there with a more regionally adapted one that could work.

I also had a thought for you. Perhaps now that you have some tomatoes that grow well for you you could grow some of these good tasting but maladapted heirloom varieties in your greenhouse and make some deliberate crosses. Eventually perhaps you could reap some tasty genes from tomatoes that would otherwise be impossible to grow.

I too am tired of red tomatoes and perfectly sphericle tomatoes. I generally like yellow and orange better. I also kind of liked those P20 blue tomatoes i grew that one year. Perhaps a yellow base with P20 (now indigo rose) blue tops would be very good (and colorful)... Perhaps it would be similar to the red podded peas... Yellow bottom but purple tops sort of equal red...
My blog: keen101.wordpress.com

Carol_A

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 9
    • View Profile
People need to be educated about these breeding issues and their effects on edible plants.  I'm sure you're right, Joseph, that when people ask for heirloom tomatoes what they are really wanting is tasty tomatoes with complex, interesting flavors.  If I remember, you included some of the "black" and "pink" varieties in your landrace breeding mix (what makes a yellow/red tomato?), addressing Keen's point.  So if those are locally adapted, they should be included in your landrace, right? Joseph, I would love it if you would write a book, as your ideas and methods are so powerful and yet not really being talked about in the current "crop" of books out there.  Then you don't have to talk each customer about heirloom tomatoes, you just point to the book on sale besides the tomatoes.

joseph

  • Administrator
  • Jr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 69
    • View Profile
    • Garden.Lofthouse.com
Re: Why I don't Grow Heirloom Tomatoes And Why People Keep Asking For Them.
« Reply #3 on: 2016-February-01 03:57:05 PM »

Keen101:  I am intending to spend a couple years selecting for promiscuous pollination in my tomatoes. And then on introducing some inter-species hybrids, and/or converting them into obligatory out-crossers. After that has settled down, then I'm intending to investigate incorporating some of the more flavorful varieties. Somewhere along the line I'm intending screening for frost/cold tolerance.

This past growing season, I grew some inter-species hybrids that tasted better than any tomato I have ever tasted. One of them was a 1/2" orange cherry tomato. The other was a brown striped saladette tomato.   Also this year, I screened every tomato by tasting it before saving seeds. I was whining a couple years ago about how horrid my tomatoes taste. I had to repent of that this summer after I tasted some modern hybrids... Oh my heck they really were insipid. I eliminated a few from my landrace that had what I think of as the "cardboard" trait. Blue pigment over a yellow base might be pretty. 

Carol_A: The blacks and pinks self-eliminated from my landrace. There might still be some hanging around at low concentrations. Perhaps at some point I may reintroduce them. I culled OSU blue because the taste was insipid to me. And green zebra was so sour to me that it was culled. Right now, I am growing reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. Some of them bi-colored or striped.

keen101

  • Global Moderator
  • Newbie
  • *****
  • Posts: 22
  • Loveland, Colorado
    • View Profile
    • My Blog
Re: Why I don't Grow Heirloom Tomatoes And Why People Keep Asking For Them.
« Reply #4 on: 2016-February-02 10:12:55 AM »
Those inter species hybrids sound interesting. I think its completely possible that wild tomatoes could have more flavor than the ones humans have been breeding for so long.

One that i'm looking into now are the galapagos island tomatoes. Apparently there are two, a yellow and an orange. (Solanum cheesmaniae and S. galapagense). They sound particularly interesting because they have genetics for drought and high-salinity. And apparently they are highly prized by Galapagos tortoises. So i'm now looking into them. If i manage to acquire some seeds would you be interested in those?

As far your promiscuously pollinated tomatoes i think those are also an interesting project. I think introducing more variation to the flowers could help attract bees even more. I've been talking with Carolyn. She's seen white blossoms, ivory blossoms, various shades of yellow from pale to gold and one that has blossoms which have a gold stripe in the center of each petal. Hopefully i can get the names of what varieties those are. The striped petal sounds very interesting.
My blog: keen101.wordpress.com

joseph

  • Administrator
  • Jr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 69
    • View Profile
    • Garden.Lofthouse.com
I Think That My Tomatoes Are Better Than Heirlooms
« Reply #5 on: 2016-April-19 11:40:47 AM »
I Think That My Tomatoes Are
Better Than Heirlooms



Every fruit tasted prior to seed saving.
Hard or “Cardboard” tomatoes are not allowed.
Locally-adapted to our soils, climate, and diseases.
Modern-adapted to current bugs, diseases, and weather.
Seed produced in Cache Valley.
Proven record of growing great in this area.
Mature here in spite of cold-nights and short-season.
Genetically-diverse so that if one plant fails, others may thrive.
Smaller fruits ripen quicker.
Open or Promiscuously Pollinated