Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato Varieties List
A good source for information about tomato varieties is New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station where we can find lists of tomatoes by variety, shape and skin colour. https://njaes.rutgers.edu/tomato-varieties/

It’s amazing how many varieties there are – especially the older type – open pollinated heirloom tomatoes.

Three tomato heirloom varieties.
Large Red Cherry, Beam’s Yellow Pear and Black Cherry

Seed Catalogues
Most of our seed catalogues contain a mix of open pollinated heirloom varieties such as Brandywine and a good amount of modern hybrids such as Sungold and Shirley.

One catalogue with a good selection of heirloom toms is the Plants of Distinction seed catalogue at: https://www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk/tomatoes.

I have purchased seeds from them for years, but like most seed retailers, every now and then I get a packet of poor results!

Sometimes there are different strains of the same variety too, so we can get slightly different results than we expected!

Still, there is an element of excitement when we’re not quite sure exactly what results we’ll get!

Common Problems This Season (UK)
The two big issues this season for most home-growers in the UK have been:

Blossom End Rot
Split skins

Fortunately, most of us haven’t had a lot of rain (so far) this season to worry about blight.

However, higher temperatures have caused Blossom End Rot (BER) for a lot of home-growers.

Blossom End Rot affecting a large tomato variety.

With soil drying out so quickly, an interruption to the intake of calcium, as the fruit are swelling, will usually result in Blossom End Rot (BER).

Self watering planters/containers (SWP’s) are a very good way to keep plants watered 24/7 which helps avoid BER.

For those who use the Quadgrow, keeping the reservoir at least half full, in high temperatures, is recommended – it’s amazing how much water four plants can use on a hot day!

If every summer was the same, we could plan ahead and always get great results. Instead, we have to “hedge our bets” and grow varieties that do well in different growing conditions.

For example …

A wet summer requires blight-free varieties if we are to avoid late blight.
A hot summer requires more frequent watering (or a reservoir system) if we are to avoid blossom end rot.
A cloudy spring/summer (poor light) requires early maturing varieties if we want ripe tomatoes before autumn temperatures drop in September/October.

The answer for many gardeners is to grow cherry varieties – they mature early and are not susceptible to Blossom End Rot. There are also a number of new cherry toms on the market that are blight-free.

However, many of us like a challenge!

Growing tomatoes in the greenhouse or polytunnel is great and it avoids a number of common problems.

Keeping leaves dry will avoid BER and split skins, if watering is consistent.
However, some of us don’t have a greenhouse and enjoy growing some of those lovely old heirloom tomatoes.

The Big Challenge
That still remains a big challenge … growing the old heirlooms outside in an unpredictable summer!
While some heirlooms are resistant to some diseases, most are not, so getting a good crop in a poor season, requires every bit of experience we have.

Tomato Shape and Colour
We tend to grow our own tomatoes for the superior taste but colour and shape can enhance a salad and get the taste buds ready for action too!

The Beam’s Yellow Pear tomato looks fantastic but tastes quite mild and ordinary. The taste sometimes doesn’t matter – it looks so good in a salad that our minds make excuses for it! If the sizzle sells the steak, then colour and shape can also sell the tomato salad!

A good reason to have a mix of colours and shapes on your seed list for next season!

Last Newsletter next week.


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