You might have heard about the increasing popularity of heirloom vegetables. While most of the commercially grown vegetables are hybrids, heirloom cultivars are not preferred for large-scale cultivation. During the recent past, there has been a growing interest in heirloom vegetables, and heirloom tomatoes are very much in demand.
What are Heirloom Plants
Tomatoes are among those versatile vegetables that have been used by humans for a very long time. While most people are familiar with the hybrid tomato varieties that are commonly available in the market, very few are aware of heirloom cultivars. Heirloom plants are those plants that were grown by our forefathers. There are various theories regarding the origin and definition of heirloom plants. In general, an heirloom plant can be defined as a plant, that was grown in the earlier periods of history. No specific time period can be attributed for the origin of an heirloom plant, as different theories suggest different ages. In general, it can be said that those plants, which were widely cultivated before the advent of hybridization in the 1950s, are heirloom plants.
Heirloom Tomato Plants
Nowadays, hybrids that are made with specific desired qualities, like disease resistance, are grown under controlled conditions. In heirloom tomato plants, the fruits are allowed to get ripe in the plant itself. In case of hybrids, the fruits are harvested when they are green, and are ripened artificially. Contrary to heirloom plants, in which open pollination is done by insects and birds, controlled or manual pollination is done in hybrids. Even the seeds of hybrids, if grown to plants, will be like the parent plants only. This is not the case with heirloom seeds, which are used for propagation of a specific variety. In this case, the genetic composition of the new plants may vary, due to open pollination. However, the disadvantage of heirloom tomatoes is that they tend to be fragile, and may get cracked, as they get ripe. However, these tomatoes provide good color, excellent flavor, and nutrition, when compared to hybrids.
Heirloom Tomato Cultivars
There are different types of heirloom tomato plants. While some are ideal for eating raw, others are used for preparing sauce, jam, and juice. These cultivars vary in color, size, and flavor. Some of the popular varieties are Brandywine, Cherokee purple, Green zebra, Jubilee, Big rainbow, Blaby special, Black krim, Hillbilly, etc. Brandywine is a heirloom tomato cultivar that yields large pinkish fleshy fruits that are perfect for eating raw, as in sandwiches. It is said that the revived popularity of heirloom tomatoes is mainly due to this specific variety. The color of heirloom tomatoes may range from various hues of red, purple, white, yellow, green, orange, black, and pink. Even a combination of two or more colors is seen in some varieties. You can find small-sized varieties like cherry tomatoes, and really large ones with a weight of around a kilogram. Heirloom tomatoes can be round, oval, oblong, pear-shaped, or elongated with deep ridges.
In short, you may find different varieties of heirloom tomato plants. If interested, you can grow the plant of your choice, and reap the goodness of heirloom tomatoes. For this purpose, contact the local nursery or a horticulturist, for more information about the specific variety that is ideal for your region. You may also get the seeds or seedlings from them, or purchase online.