When we think of antiques, we think first of objects: furniture, glassware, or linens. But the world of plants has its own unique heritage, its own antiques. Referred to as heirloom plants, these old favorites are the antiques of the garden world. An heirloom variety is defined as one that has been cultivated for at least 50 years.
Heirloom tomatoes have been passed down from generation to generation, from gardener to gardener, and they range in size, shape, texture, color, and flavor. Martha has been growing more and more heirloom tomatoes for the past few seasons, and many of these old-timers have become her new favorites.
Martha grows her heirlooms alongside her modern tomatoes, staking them on sturdy tripods. Try to keep your seed catalogs with you inside your garden bag. That way you can look up the tomatoes you are growing to learn more about them as you go. Sure, the catalogs will be damp and dirty by the end of the season, but unlike gardening books, old copies are replaced by new ones that arrive in the mail.
Compile your own heirloom garden -- and don't forget to save the seeds. They can be passed along to others or saved for later use. Either way, these tomatoes can continue to grow and enhance the gardens of another generation.
If you're interested in growing some of these wonderful antiques, here are some of the varieties Martha enjoys.
This is a small yellow tomato with a fuzzy skin. It's very sweet and grows in clusters. You can order seeds for this tomato from the Tomato Growers Supply Company catalog.
Brownish purple with great flavor, this tomato is named for its home, the Crimean peninsula of the Black Sea. It is available through the Cook's Garden seed catalog.
'Lillian's Yellow Heirloom'
Passed down from generation to generation in the Bruce family of Manchester, Texas, this favorite is bright, clear, and lemon yellow. Its sweet flavor has just a hint of citrus. These tomatoes can weigh up to a pound each when mature, and although they are oddly shaped, they make a superb slicer. Seeds are available through Shepherd's Garden Seeds catalog.
'Aunt Ruby's German Green'
This large variety can weigh from 12 to 16 ounces. Spicy and sweet, this is a green beefsteak tomato that you can find through Seed Savers Exchange.
This antique among antiques is available through the Territorial Seed Company catalog. Dating back to the mid-1800s, this tasty yellow tomato is low in acidity and perfect for slicing because of its small seed cavity
These bright, red tomatoes have excellent flavor. Vigorous plants produce half- to three-quarter-pound tomatoes, and they'll continue right through to the frost. Tomato Grower's is a catalog that specializes in tomatoes, including this variety.
This red plum tomato was first cultivated in Irkutsk, Siberia. These tomatoes are excellent for sauce, mature a week earlier than traditional plum tomatoes, and are available through Johnny's Selected Seeds.
An Amish heirloom since 1885, this tomato is large, deeply lobed, and reddish pink in color with leaves that actually look more like potato leaves than tomato leaves. Normally, they weigh 10 or 12 ounces each, but they can be as heavy as a pound and a half. The seeds are carried by the Southern Exposure catalog.
These tomatoes are streaked with red and yellow, both inside and out. They have a rich, fruity, sweet flavor, and the seeds can be ordered from Johnny's Selected Seeds.