This time of the year, tomatoes are on my mind in a big way. It will still be a long while before we have tomatoes coming out of the garden, cherries & saladettes that can be eaten in one or two bites, or big, luscious slicers for sandwiches, burgers, salads, or roasting in the oven with some fine cheese, but now is a good time to start thinking about them.
I look forward to growing a wide diversity of heirloom tomatoes again this year, so I thought I’d take a few moments to look into what makes a tomato an heirloom?
Definitions vary, with some enthusiasts claiming a variety must be 50 years or older to be labelled an “heirloom.” Others claim at least 100 years of history must exist for the title to be bestowed to a certain variety. Others still, staying with a more literal definition, say that any variety that has been passed down from generation to generation, becoming a family or community “heirloom” is worthy of the status. An important and uncontested distinction is that heirlooms are not hybrids meaning if you save their seeds (and they were grown in isolation from other kinds of tomatoes- 50-100 ft) you can be pretty darn sure that the resulting generations will come true to mimic their parents.
This touches on some of the more political acts of farming and growing food, being that these seeds’ genetics belong to the commons and can’t be patented or owned by anyone, individual, or corporate – this is important…
For a more in-depth look at tomatoes, and some of the politics surrounding this fascinating fruit, check out Tangled Routes: women, work and globalization on the tomato trail
Being interested in seed production and saving seeds here on the farm, I am happy to offer a handful of varieties of tomato seeds for sale or swap. Below is a list of some of the tomato varieties I’ve trialed and grown for seed here at the farm that I would be happy to share with other enthusiasts:
Riesentraube – Beautiful & prolific round red cherry – delicious!
Principe Borghese – Kind of like a cherry-paste, this heavy-setter was traditionally used for the purpose of sun-dried tomatoes – very tasty!
Matina – a relatively early producer, this medium sized red tomato blends unique flavour with hardiness and early production – good attributes for gardeners like myself, perched on the mountain
Glacier Saladette – reliably one of the earliest tomatoes here at the farm, this one is surprisingly cold-hardy for a tender annual that originates in central America
Black Krim – the beautifully coloured fruits ares dark red-purple and packed with flavour!
Old German – I’ve been growing this beauty for years and continue to for its superior flavour and strikingly beautiful appearance – blending the golden-red hues of a mid-summers’ sunset in one big round fruit
Cosmonaut Volkov – as the name would suggest, this is a variety that can withstand cooler weather slightly better than others, by offering a heavy set of fruit that is earlier than most long-season heirlooms
Big Rainbow – as the name alludes to, this one is big and colourful – a wide spectrum of flavours comes along with the beautiful colouration – a relatively new discovery by me, this one impressed us last year
* All seed packs are $3, or $2 for CSA members – while quantities last.
I will be offering these as well as quite a few other seedlings for sale or swap later this spring. Here is a quick schedule of where and when you can find me out and about in the community in the next few months…
Sat April 20th – Seed Swap at the Collingwood Community Food Co-op
Sat May 18th – First Collingwood Farmers’ Market date of the year!
Sun May 19th (later that afternoon) Grand Opening at Cook Community Garden, in partnership with Free Spirit Gardens
Wed May 22nd – First Clarksburg Farmers’ Market date of the year!
Sun May 26th – Seedy Sunday at The Market/Eco Inhabit on HWY 26 near Meaford.
Last year the tomato seedlings were about a foot tall and came with a huge root ball of home-blended compost to give it a kick start. If everything goes according to plans I’ll be offering those again this year, for $5/seedling. CSA members receive a 40% discount (only $3/each!).
Finally, here is a short list of some great farm-based seed companies in the local area that specialize in getting home gardeners and heirloom connoisseur growing with enthusiasm…