Heirlooms are open-pollinated, which means nature does the work, rather than a plant breeder, and their seeds can be saved, assuring another generation of the exact same plant. They are old-time varieties whose seeds have been saved and shared through multiple generations of families and friends. Their foremost qualities are outstanding flavor and high nutrition.
The term “heirloom” does not have a rigid definition in terms of age. Americans did not embrace the tomato as food until the mid-1800s, even though Thomas Jefferson was growing them in the late 1700s. If you have never tasted an heirloom tomato you owe it to yourself to taste history!
Taste and nutrition often fall by the wayside as modern hybrids are developed in a quest for higher yields, often with thick skins that will withstand the stress of shipping and last longer on supermarket shelves. Commercial growers love the uniformity of hybrids because they can pick the crop in one fell swoop; but for home gardeners, a gradual supply of fresh produce is usually preferable to the glut of the all-at-once harvest that many hybrids provide.
Most heirloom tomato plants are indeterminate, meaning that the robust plants, often reaching 6 feet tall, keep growing until frost kills them. They require sturdy support and should also be pruned of excess branches, while leaving enough to shade the ripening fruit from sunburn.
The dwarf plants suitable for pot culture on this year’s list are all determinate. They will ripen their season of fruit all at once and then die. Their branches do not require pruning.
We are grateful to the many families who are keeping these varieties available and also to the seed companies helping to promote them.
View our 2021 Heirloom Tomato Plant List.
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