When I was loitering in Canadian Tire recently, waiting for my car to be repaired, I spent some time looking over the seed rack. This packet of mixed heirloom tomatoes caught my eye and I bought one. It’s called Rainbow Blend. It offers a selection of multiple varieties, a good opportunity to try out a few different kinds. The label reads: A sensational blend of assorted Heirloom tomatoes. Varieties such as Black, Pink, Red and Yellow Brandywine tomatoes. Add to the Brandywine tomatoes some Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, White Wonder and a beautiful orange, like Nebraska Wedding and you have an Heirloom pack that can’t be beat! Well known for its size and rich flavour. Great for salads, canning, soups and sandwiches. Indeterminate variety.
Heirloom generally refers to older varieties that have been around since WWII, or were bred using traditional methods. Heirloom varieties have been enjoying new popularity in recent years with home gardeners. It is argued that commercial varieties may have been developed for the convenience of farmers, often ripening all at the same time, having tough skins for easy transport, uniform appearance, and so on, traits that don’t necessarily make them ideal for home gardeners. It’s also said that while commercial varieties are frequently marketed as having disease resistance, these diseases are often not a concern to home gardeners, but only to large scale farmers. Of course, different heirloom varieties have different traits, some being prone to cracking and other issues.
Heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. That means they grow like a vine, often reaching heights of 6 feet or more. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost, blooming and setting new fruit throughout the growing season. Determinate varieties of tomatoes, also called “bush” tomatoes, are varieties that are bred to grow to a limited height, approximately 4 feet. They stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud and their whole crop ripens at or near the same time, usually over a 2 week period, and then the plant dies.
None of this really relates to why heirloom tomatoes appeal to me, however. I just love the mix of shapes and colours and sizes.