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Gardening With Laurie: Try planting heirloom tomatoes this spring

March 1, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 2, 2011 at 9:03 p.m.

Laurie Garretson

By Laurie Garretson

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. That's all most vegetable gardeners are talking about this time of year. I'm not surprised. Tomatoes are by far the most popular crop grown in the vegetable garden. Who can resist a homegrown tomato fresh off the vine? But, with so many varieties to choose from, how's a gardener supposed to select which ones to plant? I've never seen it verified anywhere, but I'd guess there must be at least a thousand different tomato varieties available. There just never seems to be enough space in the garden to plant all the types many of us want to grow.

During the past several years, the popularity of the heirloom-type tomatoes has grown. To be considered an heirloom tomato, the fruit must have been grown from a seed that was saved from a parent fruit. The seed must also have been from a type of tomato that has been available for more than 50 years. Plus, the tomato must have its own history or folklore to go along with it. All heirloom tomatoes will be open pollinated. Open pollinated means the seeds from a particular type plant will come back true to the parent plant, unlike non-open pollinated or hybrid type plants. Heirlooms have a much higher nutritional content than the hybrid varieties.

Over the past 40 years, the availability of many of the old variety, open-pollinated tomatoes have been lost, along with the many family farms that had developed them and supported them. The many, many heirlooms that had been adapted to grow and produce so well for so many years are now gone and have been replaced by fewer hybrid-type tomatoes.

Tomatoes are hybridized for many reasons, usually for disease and pest resistance, along with transportability, attractive appearance and other commercial criteria. The nutritional content of the tomato does not seem to be one of the primary or typical concerns. But profit is.

Today, there are still many types of heirloom tomatoes available. Be sure and save room in your garden for some.

There can be several factors that might affect the yield, quality and first harvest time of heirloom tomatoes, as well as hybrid tomatoes. Your planting area can many times have an affect on the crops. Try not to plant tomatoes, especially heirlooms, in soil that has recently grown tomatoes, eggplants, peppers for at least two years. All tomatoes need a well-drained, sunny location with lot's of good compost, Rocket Fuel and some organic fertilizer added to the soil to ensure a healthy, productive plant.

Tomato plants grow best when supported by some means. Whether store-bought tomato cages, cattle fencing or reinforcing wire mesh, any means to keep the plants up off the soil will help to prevent diseases.

If you are limited to a small planting area, a determinate-type tomato will work best for you and won't usually require much support.

Gardening should be fun and enjoyable. Heirloom tomatoes with names like Banana Legs, Big Rainbow, Hillbilly, Red Fig, and Amish Rose growing in your garden can only add to the enjoyment and deliciousness.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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