February 28, 2015

Heirlooms or Hybrids?

Sliced beefsteak tomatoes
by Toni Leland

So now that I'm all fired up by reading Renee's Garden Cookbook, I'm ready to seriously consider what to do in the garden. Once the three feet of snow melts, of course!

Last year I planted an heirloom tomato called Brandywine, a luscious pink tomato that was so sweet, liked it. That's right, I'm not a big fan of tomatoes, but this one made me realize that my distrust of tomatoes had nothing to do with the fruit, and everything to do with the source - namely, grocery stores.

As the gardening frenzy begins to set in, I'm making the decision to grow my plants from seeds this year. All the news coverage about the use of neonicotinoid insecticides makes gardeners wary of buying plants from anyone other than established and revered nurseries. Neonicotinoid insecticides have been targeted as the possible cause of honey bee colony collapse, as well as reducing some bird populations. Not to mention, do we want to eat this stuff? Other than buying only organically grown plants, we are faced with growing our own from quality organic seeds. And the choices for both methods are plentiful.

Anyway, the beautiful heirloom tomato of last year has me all excited, so I decided to do some research. Renee's Garden has just about everything a gardener needs to know, so I started there. Renee's article about the differences between hybrid and heirloom varieties focuses heavily on tomatoes, and now I'm well-informed.

For instance, heirloom "...means a variety, that is at least 50 years old, and that has been preserved and kept true in a particular region." Heirloom varieties are always open-pollinated, which means the plants are pollinated by insects and wind, in a specific place under specific conditions to maintain that variety's characteristics. Renee explains everything much better than I do, but I like the concept of having a tomato that has been loved and protected for so many years.

Did my grandmothers grow Brandywine tomatoes? I'd like to think so.

Heirloom tomatoes
photo courtesy Renee's Garden