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Are old-fashioned heirloom tomatoes really better?

There is no clear-cut definition of an heirloom tomato, though it’s generally agreed that it is a variety at least 50 or more years old. Some date back to varieties brought by early settlers from their homes in the old country. Unlike today’s hybrids, almost all heirloom tomatoes are open-pollinated. These plants, unless pollinated by another tomato variety, will produce seeds that make tomatoes just like the parent plant.

Heirloom tomatoes tend to ripen more slowly, so if you live at a higher elevation, select varieties with a shorter season. Many heirlooms also bear less than do modern hybrids, though a few varieties are the exception. And most heirloom tomatoes need good support as they are large, indeterminate plants that continue growing until frost.

The greatest heirloom challenge is a greater susceptibility to disease. Their modern F1 hybrid cousins are more predictable, because since they are bred for desirable characteristics like flavor, size and disease resistance. This is accomplished by crossing two or more varieties with desirable traits, but it’s unlikely the seeds from an F1 hybrid will produce plants like its parents. F1 hybrid seeds are more expensive due to the additional costs of controlling cross pollination. Such hybrids are sometimes trademarked or patented, and the retailer must then pay a royalty to sell or grow the seed.

Hybrid tomatoes are often labeled regarding their disease resistance. For example, the exceptionally popular F1 hybrid “Early Girl” tomato is resistant to “F”, fusarium wilt, and “V,” verticillium wilt. Other tomatoes may be labeled “N” for nematode resistance or “T” (or sometimes “TMV”) indicating tobacco mosaic virus resistance.

Read more at The Union Democrat

Publication date: 5/10/2017

 


 

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