The goal at Wild Boar Farms is to create the most amazing tomato varieties there are. Using heirloom genetics and mutations as a foundation, I Have been fortunate to discover and then improve on some very remarkable tomatoes. The main focus is on bi-color and striped varieties with extreme flavor and facinating looks. It's a hard business but appreciative customers drive me on.
I was introduced to these guys by a local grower in Greencastle, who sent a selection of seeds to Steve for us to try at Tomato Day. Minimally, we'll be starting them for sale at the plant sale. All are open pollinated, which means you'll be able to save the seed of any you grow for your 2013 season. Here are the ones originally obtained from Wild Boar Farms that I'll be recommending to Steve to include in our trial:
|Berkeley Tie Dye|
Another one on the list from the Greencastle grower from Solana Seeds:
Here's a new one that intrigued me from Territorial Seeds:
Indigo Rose - 80 days. Unlike any tomato that we have seen! Indigo Rose is the first high-anthocyanin tomato commercially available anywhere in the world. The high amount of anthocyanin (a naturally occurring pigment that has been shown to fight disease in humans) creates quite a vibrant indigo, almost blue skin on the 2 inch, round fruit. The purple coloring occurs on the portion of the fruit that is exposed to light, while the shaded portion starts out green and turns deep red when mature. Inside, the flesh reveals the same rouge tone with a superbly balanced, multi-faceted tomatoey flavor. The indeterminate plants have an open habit and are very vigorous producers. Bred at Oregon State University.
Lots of other bloggers and garden writers are talking tomatoes. Here's Dr. Lee Reich's list, and Adrian Higgins at the Washington Post discovers the Rutgers Jersey Tomato effort, with old time hybrids Ramapo and Moreton.
Steve also asked me to write up something about heirloom tomatoes for a Fact Sheet he's producing (I get a byline - Woo Hoo!). He had to edit it down a lot (I can get wordy and wax a little too poetic about tomatoes), but here's the whole director's cut version:
Heirloom Tomatoes - The simplest definition of an heirloom tomato is an open pollinated (OP) variety with a known history and provenance that goes back generations. Immigrants to America in the 19th and early 20th century would bring seed from their home country under their home country growing conditions and plant them here wherever they settled. Year to year, they would save seed from their best fruits and slowly build a variety with fixed characteristics for their growing conditions. Over time, a reputation would be built that made the variety famous for some characteristic like, shape, color, size, and of course flavor. German Johnson, Amish Paste, Brandywine, Striped German and Riesentraube are Pennsylvania/Ohio examples of tomatoes introduced to a wider market in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, whose original source of seed came from family, or regional plots that had been growing them for generations.
Another way that an heirloom can be introduced to the market is by growers in other countries sharing their own varieties with their own provenance. The early Czech variety Stupice is an example, which was introduced in 1976 by a Czech grower who shared some of his seed with a seed producer here in the U.S. during the early days of the organic growing movement, and it caught on.
Still another way to gain heirloom status is to have a colorful story behind the creation of the variety. Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter is a good example. “Charlie” owned a radiator business in the 1930’s. He also was an amateur tomato breeder. He self selected fruits from a couple different large beefsteak varieties (German Johnson is one of the progenitors) and came up with a fixed set of characteristics that were large, meaty, and productive. He marketed them to the public at $1.00 per plant (very high during the Depression) with the pitch that one plant would feed a whole family. He used the proceeds of this side business to pay off his mortgage, hence Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter.
Other introductions that are open-pollinated, but the result of deliberate breeding are not technically heirlooms, but are often marketed as such. Green Zebra, a tomato bred by Tom Wagner of Washington State, was introduced in 1982 and usually appears in the heirloom section of most seed catalogs.
Nowadays, new introductions of recently bred open pollinated varieties are made yearly, and there is an active effort by some seed companies to travel the world and find varieties for new introductions.
So what’s behind the enthusiasm of many people for heirloom varieties? One reason is that you can save seed and continue the old practice and not have to purchase seed every year. Since tomatoes are self fertile, you can rely on open pollinated varieties to produce seed that will grow with the same characteristics of the previous generation. That differs from hybrid varieties that are deliberately and scientifically selected for certain characteristics from different parent lines under controlled conditions. The hybrid tomato grown will perform as advertised, with desirable characteristics like perfect shape, even ripening, earliness, bushy habit, disease resistance, and heavier yield. Those characteristics can be important for the home grower, especially the disease resistance and potentially the higher yield, if you’re only growing a few plants. However, until recently, the important characteristics that hybridizers focused on often came at the expense of flavor. In addition, seed saved from that hybrid tomato, were you to plant it the following season, could have characteristics more in tune with its grandparents, not the intended specific cross of the first generation, so the grower becomes reliant on the seed producer each year. Finally, the presumed consumer preference for a standard round red tomato, also meant that old tomato varieties that were oddly shaped, green when ripe, multicolored or striped also went out of favor, so it came as something of a surprise to people a generation or two removed from the farm, to learn that not all tomatoes are red or yellow and round. They can be ribbed, ox-heart shaped, green, black, orange, elongate, pear-shaped, striped and multi-colored. Re-discovering their unique colors and shapes also fueled the renewed interest.
With all that as background, and with the caveat that flavor is a very subjective metric, here are some of the varieties that I grow every year and will continue to grow, based on something about them that was initially intriguing, but won an annual place in my garden using flavor as the primary criteria to keep them around and at the top of their category.
|Stupice - TomatoFest|
|Arkansas Traveler - TomatoFest|
|Old Brooks - TomatoFest|
|Lucky Cross - Tomato Fest|
|Pineapple - TomatoFest|
|Striped German - TomatoFest|
|Orange Russian 117 - TomatoFest|
|Mortgage Lifter - TomatoFest|
|Brandywine - TomatoFest|
|Marianna's Peace - TomatoFest|
|Cherokee Purple - TomatoFest|
|Black Krim - TomatoFest|
|Green Zebra - TomatoFest|
|Aunt Ruby German Green|
Green – two varieties – Aunt Ruby German Green and Green Zebra. If your flavor buds tend more toward tart than sweet, then these are the varieties to try. Green Zebra is a 75 day mid season variety, good continuous yields, with an unusual darker green stripe on the skin. The ripe flesh is a bright, almost chartreuse color. Size-wise, larger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball. Aunt Ruby German Green is a larger, not quite beefsteak, but more baseball sized fruit that has a slight pink blush at the blossom end that signals when it’s ripe. It’s my personal overall favorite for flavor, although again, like Brandywine, finicky, low yielding, and prone to disease. Another one that I don’t share much. More tart than sweet, but very complex tomatoey goodness.
|Dr. Wyche Yellow|
|Orange Strawberry - TomatoFest|
|Black Cherry - TomatoFest|
|Chocolate Cherry - Territorial|
Chocolate Cherry is slightly larger than Black Cherry.
|Dr. Carolyn - TomatoFest|
|Riesentraube - TomatoFest|
For a regular red cherry, the one with the best reputation for sweetness is Matt’s Wild Cherry, but I like the very old heirloom Riesentraube – German for “little bunch of grapes”. It takes a little longer to ripen than the others, but nice, not too sweet punch. The fruits are slightly elongated with a little nipple on the blossom end which adds something. Sun Gold is not an heirloom, but always has a place in my garden.
|Amish Paste - TomatoFest|
|Pittman Valley Plum - TomatoFest|
Amish Paste and Pittman Valley Plum are tops in this category. Amish Paste is wider, whereas Pittman Valley Plum has the shape of a short bull’s horn. A special mention in this category is the Italian heirloom, Principe Borghese. The best tomato for drying. In southern Italy, whole plants are hung to dry in the sun. It’s the original “Sun Dried Tomato.”
|Principe Borghese - TomatoFest|
All these tomatoes are widely available from seed suppliers, including, but not limited to PineTree Garden, Totally Tomatoes, Baker Creek Seeds, Territorial Seeds, Tomato Grower’s Supply, Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden, and TomatoFest. The Franklin County Master Gardeners also have many heirloom variety plants at our plant sale each May.
UPDATE: January 25th, 2012 - Here's Steve's report, with my byline. And here's a promo piece about the report from the PSU Ag Science news site.