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Did You Grow Any Heirloom Tomatoes This Year?
Tomatoes! What happened to the taste? The original classification of a “Heirloom” tomato meant that particular variety had been saved every year by the same family for generations. Before retail grocery store chains did away with the mom and pop stores, most of the tomatoes in the produce aisle were likely locally grown. Not so nowadays. Those big, softball-sized slicing tomatoes found in chain stores and delis were picked green in California; crated and sold at the Atlanta, Georgia, or Philadelphia terminal in 25 lb. cartons for $20.00-$29.00 a crate; and shipped here to ripen in cold storage in cardboard containers. This might be why you think they taste like cardboard? Sad to say, we may have a whole generation out there who as never actually tasted a real honest-to-goodness flavorful tomato.
The real reason that many of the tomatoes sold today tastes nothing like the tomatoes of our grandparents is because it’s not the same tomato. The consumer has been brainwashed into thinking that produce should be evenly colored and blemish-free. So about 70 years ago the commercial tomato producers began growing just that – a high yielding, uniform colored, blemish free tomato with a whopping yield. Who cares about flavor anyway? What scientists have now learned is that to gain uniform color, size and shape they lost many of the volatile flavonoids in the blemished skins that give tomatoes their “sweet flavor”.
Thankfully, the lost knowledge of seed saving has been retained by folks like Lisa Von Saunder of Reamstown, PA who grows Pennsylvania heirloom tomatoes and sells them via her internet page www.amishlandseeds.com. You can also order heirloom tomato plant’s from just about any major seed catalog such as Burpees, Stokes, and RH Shumway. Whether you spend $5.00 for a packet of seeds to grow out yourself in the spring; or pay about $6.00 per plant for a three week old transplant; you’ll most certainly quadruple your investment given that a single tomato plant will yield over a bushel of fruit. Each variety has its own unique texture and flavor so you’ll have to experiment a bit to find just the right ones that tantalize your taste buds. Keep in mind they are not perfect-looking; in fact some of them are quite crinkled in shape.
The difficult part will be deciding which ones to grow. For you see, there are over 8,000 variety of tomatoes available commercially these days – of which about one-third are considered heirloom varieties. My suggestion, form a heirloom garden club and have each member grow a couple different varieties every year. Then, come fall, have a “Seed Saver Harvest Party” and while you’re learning how to preserve your harvest in salsa’s, canning jars, and freezer bags – collecting the seeds as you go. Dry and package up some of the seed and find a greenhouse to grow them out for you. There are several sustainable agriculture grant’s available for folks just like you wanting to put up a community greenhouse. Talk to your local agriculture development coordinator today. Pretty soon you’ll have an abundance of heirloom plants available for all of us to enjoy.
If you are interested in joining a seed saver’s club, contact Wellsboro Home Page Today and we’ll see if we can’t put you in touch with other’s interested in bringing back the flavor of home grown tomatoes and tomato sauces to our area.
Melissa Bravo of Meadow Lake Farm Consulting Services is a certified crop advisor, livestock, and land management consultant and also a free-lance agriculture writer. Melissa lives and farms in Tioga County where she raises and sells replacement Angus heifers and bulls, giant pumpkins, and oodles of tomatoes. She can be reached at (814) 574-4067.