Feb 15, 2008
Heirloom Tomatoes no More Difficult to Grow Than Hybrids

This is a rebuttal to the article on page 15 in the February issue: “Growing heirloom varieties is difficult but profitable.”

The myth that heirloom varieties of tomatoes are difficult to grow was demonstrated in that article. I have been growing heirloom tomatoes for seven years now and have only had disease problems with a few varieties. I have grown probably 60 varieties over that time.

The statement that heirlooms have little or no disease resistance is false. Where do you think modern hybrids get their resistance from? Older heirloom varieties are the parents and grandparents of most hybrids. A statement from heirloom tomato expert Carolyn Male, from the book “100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden,” says it quite well: “Those who have grown (hundreds) of heirloom tomatoes over the years know that they are no more susceptible to diseases than hybrids are. This is important, because many uninformed garden writers claim that heirloom tomatoes are disease prone. In truth, it’s more a matter of variety selection. (For example), Pik-Rite, an excellent tasting hybrid, is prone to early blight; Jaune Flammee is an excellent tasting heirloom that is prone to disease.”

The fact is, some heirlooms have very good disease resistance. I have experienced that in my growing over the years. Here is a small list of heirloom tomatoes that have good disease tolerance: Box Car Willie, Cherokee Purple, Wins All, Costoluto Genovese, Campbell’s 1327, Heinz 1439, Rutgers, Silver Fir Tree, Pineapple and Chadwick Cherry.

Another issue is the appearance myth. Most of us have been socialized to believe that all tomatoes are perfectly round and red and must be that way to taste good. That is such a myth. Gardeners and farmers who have grown and tasted heirlooms know they have a great taste – some with complex undertones.

An experienced gardener in my community garden said in a presentation at a Master Gardeners meeting that most everyone he talks to says heirlooms beat Celebrity (a hybrid) and others for pure taste quality and uniqueness. I would like to see your publication have someone like Carolyn Male or Gary Ibsen, author of “The Great Tomato Book,” do an article, as they have hands-on experience with the issue of heirloom tomatoes.

Steve Ford
Casper, Wyo.

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