Heirlooms are Tomato Crop Insurance Policy

Heirlooms are Tomato Crop Insurance Policy

In weird weather years like this, plant heirloom tomatoes to protect against unexpected losses in the summer garden. 

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When Mother Nature throws the book at us and jumbles her weather forecast, plants don’t know what to do.  When you have tomatoes bred for a certain growing season length with a specific range of temperatures, they can be totally stymied by strange weather behavior.  I discovered this one year when the cool spring temperatures lingered into the summer and we never did get hot enough to produce a good crop.

My expansive garden featured a huge range of tomatoes, about half were the typical contemporary hybrids such as Early Girl, Celebrity and Better Boy varieties.  The other half was a mixture of oddball heirlooms that are not often found outside specialty organic gardens.  The hybrids did not do well that year and in fact, most refused to set fruit.  They lagged behind, remaining spindly, and never put on that summer gang buster growth.

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Heirloom tomato ‘Pineapple’ from Park Seed (See Cool Links).

On the other hand the heirlooms flourished despite late rains and low temps.  Each plant responded differently but overall they produced a great crop of fruit.  That year was an important learning experience about the difference between heirlooms and contemporary hybrids.  Heirlooms are tolerant of a much wider range of weather behavior.  Had I not included them that year it would have been totally tomato-less.  Ever since I have hedged my bets against such losses.  And in a year like this when unpredictability seems to be the only thing we can count on, heirlooms may save your tomato crop too.   

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Brandywine, from Park Seed is perhaps the best heirloom beefsteak develops unusually leafy vines with a very reliable harvest. (See Cool Links)

For the best selection of heirloom tomato seed anywhere, shop Tomato Growers at: http://www.tomatogrowers.com/   The catalog is an excellent color reference as well as extensive wish book of varieties from around the world grown for centuries in a wide range of climates. 

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