Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Heirloom Tomatoes are Worthy

By Eileen Kull

This year, I decided to sell my surplus of heirloom tomato plants with a little business I started called fruits d' heritage. Why only grow heirlooms you ask?

First of all, you are probably wondering what makes a plant an heirloom. Age is definetly a factor, growers and breeders describe a plant bred more than fifty years ago as an heirloom or heritage variety. Being open pollinated is another key trait, which means the variety will grow true to type from seed  and can be handed down through generations. This means you can start growing one year and save your seeds for the next and so on, making them less expensive for you (even though they are also already less expensive when you get them from seed saving organizations because they are not engineered in a laboratory which is an expensive process).

Heirlooms are also easier to grow because they use less chemical additives and less water. They behave that way because they are better adapted to local conditions (much like a native plant) and they are better able to tolerate stresses such as pest pressure, drought and other abiotic factors making them a better choice for the environment. Who knew that by planting heirlooms you were increasing the biodiversity of our ecosystem!

 Heirlooms are also awesome because they provide a continual harvest, unlike hybrids, that are genetically engineered to grow at the same pace- meaning seeds planted at the same time will be ready for harvest at the same time. This is a more ideal situation for the home gardener that would enjoy a continual harvest and an extended growing season. Heirloom vegetables are also more nutritious and taste better. The development of hybrid seeds has increased crop sizes and created larger yields, but in doing so, they have sacrificed taste. We tend to dissassociate words like genetic engineering and delicious, with good cause.

 Recent research has revealed that in many cases, hybrid vegetables are significantly less nutritious than heirlooms. Finally, heirlooms are cool because they are a piece of history. Every vegetable has a story behind it, where it originated and how it got to America. When you grow heirlooms you are preserving a piece of that history. So I urge you to go to seed saving suppliers or heirloom plant suppliers near you and get started on your own history!


  1. Can you recommend heirlooms that are well suited to Philadelphia?

  2. Sorry to get to you after the growing season, this question got lost in a sea of inquiry, I hope you can use this information to help you in your growing season next year. Heirlooms, by nature improve/adapt themselves according to their geographic location year after year. So theoretically, you can give any heirloom variety that appeals to you in flavor, color, growing habit a try and if it was grown by a grower from this region of eastern PA year after year for at least the past 2 years, you can trust that it will do well (with the right growing conditions of course) I can recommend that you get plants and or seed that was generated as close to your geographic location to achieve the best results possible. There are a lot of seed suppliers in the eastern PA area, mostly amish, and most likely will be selling in farmers markets in Philly. That being said there are varieties that historically originated in this region and have been doing well in this area for over 50 years : Brandywine varieties (such as OTV, Pink, and Red), Hartmans Yellow Gooseberry & Amish Paste. In my personal experience growing in Philadelphia, I've had success with : Cherokee Purple, Abraham Lincoln, Brown Berry, Brandywine to name my yearly standbys. Hope this helps you get started, Good luck next season!