As I start to grow and collect the seeds from heirloom vegetables (and flowers, too), I am going to start showcasing our favorites! First up in "Hooked on This Heirloom" is our current favorite: Amish Paste tomatoes.
This is fresh in my mind, because we just used the last of the summer's tomatoes from our freezer. We are so ready for this year's harvest, but it will be a few months. Our baby tomatoes are growing well--here's a pic from this morning: the babies are eagerly awaiting their move to the outdoors in just a few weeks!
In case you've heard of heirloom tomatoes, but just aren't quite sure what they are, here is the main difference:
An heirloom, or heritage, breed (of any vegetable) is a variety that has been saved and passed through many generations. The seeds from an heirloom will breed 'true'- you will get the same vegetable as the plant you saved the seed from.
A hybrid vegetable is a cross between two different varieties, usually to take advantage of the best traits of both plants. Hybrids can be wonderful in the garden, but they have one major problem: you can't save their seed. You can try planting the seeds from a hybrid tomato, but you may get a plant that produces odd tomatoes or none at all. You really never know, but more than likely you'll end up with a dud.
There are very good reasons to grow heirloom tomatoes, and here are mine:
1. You can save their seed from year to year, saving money (a big plus for me!).
2. The varieties are astounding! Browse my favorite seed companies, Baker's Creek or Seed Saver's Exchange, and the beauty and array of all the types of tomatoes will amaze you.
3. You can implement your own 'natural selection' year by year. Take the seeds from the plant that did the best and produced the nicest tomatoes and then plant those seeds the next year. With each passing year you will have selected your own strong strain that is suited for the conditions and climate in your own yard!
4. You are helping to preserve seeds that may be rare. Many varieties of veggies have gone extinct, which is very sad! By saving and planting all kinds of different heirloom plants, you will not only have fun with the variety, but you'll be helping to keep rare breeds alive and well for the generations who follow you.
The heirloom I'm in love with right now is Amish Paste. I knew I wanted a good canning tomato, and so I selected this one from Baker's Creek seeds last year.
I still have lots of seeds left in the packet, but I didn't use those this year; the seeds you see below are the ones I saved from last year. Click here to see how I SAVED tomato seeds; it's unbelievably easy!
Througout the growing season, we found that the plants were producing a variety of shapes. Most of the tomatoes were the classic roma, or plum, shape, but in this photo you can see we had some other shapes as well:
|We even had a 'Siamese Twin' tomato!|
Here are the reasons why I'm especially in love with Amish Paste and will continue to save their seed year after year:
- They are a good all-around tomato. Beautiful for saucing, dicing to freeze or can, or just slicing to eat fresh.
- They are a hardy plant. Despite my error in starting them too early indoors, and a rough start outdoors, they flourished wildly.
- They produce an astounding amount of tomatoes. Quite honestly, at times it was hard to keep up with them.
|Despite starting the tomatoes too early,|
|And despite the way they looked when I planted the leggy beasts|
sideways in the garden,
|The Amish Paste flourished in no time at all.|
|We sauced them,|
|Towered up our containers,|
|And kept filling up the freezer (dabbled in canning, too).|
|As the summer wore on, it seems every day|
|we'd come in the house with a bowl-full!|
Not a bad performance, considering the little space we had!
These tomatoes have us convinced; heirlooms are absolutely worth a try.