Heirloom and Open Pollinated Varieties
To be considered an heirloom, a variety should have been around at least 50 years and be open-pollinated.

An open-pollinated variety holds on to the parents characteristics generation after generation. This is important if you want to save seed.

Tomato Black Sea Man Heirloom Variety
Black Sea Man – a lovely heirloom variety, large and juicy.


To be kept that long, the tomato is bound to have some great attributes. Some varieties become heirloom because they produce so well, others because they are disease resistant and others because of their flavour.

For example, the variety Brandywine, an Amish heirloom from 1885, is legendary for its rich flavour. Heirloom varieties are also called Heritage.

F1 Hybrids
These are (first generation – that’s what the F1 means) plants and the result of a cross between two varieties. For instance, two varieties of tomatoes are chosen because each has particular traits a grower wants to cultivate.

Imagine for example crossing Moneymaker and Sungold – you would end up with Moneygold or Sunmaker – sounds good to me!

However, when seeds are taken from the first tomatoes that are produced by this union, the seeds of these tomatoes (now F2’s) will not be able to reproduce this crossed variety again, but will revert back to one of the parents.

Heirlooms, which are open-pollinated plants, on the other hand, reproduce themselves generation after generation.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hybrids
Two advantages of hybrids are (usually) vigorous growth and conformity of size and shape … more important to supermarkets perhaps, than the tomato enthusiast.

But remember “Tomatoes are like people, the best looking ones aren’t always the nicest.” (Quote from the British Tomato Growers’ Association).

For the supermarket a most important consideration is shelf life but this is often at the expense of flavour and vitamin C content.

How many varieties should I grow?
I always sow too many seeds and end up growing far more plants than I should – or have room for. So I decided to ask myself a question:

If I could only grow one cherry variety, one medium variety and one large variety, which ones would they be?

My first choice would be the bush Tumbling Tom – it comes in both red and yellow strains (I cheated a bit there!) and it is a decent size cherry and very reliable. The red tastes different from the yellow and the plants produce a very good yield. It will grow very well in large pots and hanging baskets.

Tall Varieties
There are many excellent tall varieties but the one I would choose for outdoor growing is Alicante. This is one of the finest tasting varieties and dependable in an unpredictable summer – weather-wise! Great in a grow bag up against a sunny wall or fence.

For my final choice I’m back to the bush varieties and Oregon Spring is a favourite of mine. Its taste, size and reliability make it a great choice for outdoor growing. However, it does need room for its roots so give it a good size container.

If you wish to grow Oregon Spring you may need to Google it has it can be hard to find.

Varieties Are Sometimes Regional
One thing to consider is that different varieties grow better or worse in different regions, so finding the ones that best suit your area is a good way to a successful crop.

One thing you could do is to ask an experienced gardener at your local allotment. He or she will probably be happy to share his or her experience and tell you the best varieties to grow for your area and of their methods – possibly handed down the generations!

Of course you could always ask at the garden center, but you can only get real advice from someone who has actually grown the varieties in question.

One thing I’ve learnt about tomato plants is that there can be a big difference between the growing requirements of varieties.

For example, Red Alert can be a bit tricky, it requires more light than Tumbling Tom to stop it from becoming leggy and more root room – best sown in April to the beginning of May, whereas Tumbling Tom can be sown anytime in the spring and is less demanding. Each variety has its own peculiarities!

Medium Size, Tall Varieties
In this category Alicante, Moneymaker, Golden Sunrise and Tamina are just a few of the many good one available.

In the next Newsletter we’ll discuss large, Beefsteak varieties and some of the difficulties involved.

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