Grow Your Tomatoes
• Grow From Seed
• Store-Bought Plants
• Container Growing
• In the Garden
• Tomato Pests
• Tomato Diseases
• Heirloom or Hybrid
• Popular Varieties
• Companion Planting
• Grow Lights
• Saving Your Seeds
Heirloom vs. HybridSo what's the difference between an 'heirloom' and a 'hybrid' tomato?
Hybrid tomatoes come from the seeds produced by plants that were crossed with other varieties to achieve certain qualities. Hybrids are known to be bred mainly for production, disease resistance, and other qualities that don't include flavor. The tomatoes you see at the supermarket are a perfect example of complex hybrid fruit that have every desired quality except for the most important ones: flavor and texture.
Today, there are many new hybrids on the market that have exceptional flavor. If you are growing hybrids, choose your varieties carefully and see what others have been saying about them to make sure you are buying a good hybrid and not a tasteless one.
Hybrid tomatoes do not produce true seed. Seeds grown from hybrid tomatoes will produce different plants - they will revert to one of their parents and won't maintain the original hybrid traits.
Heirloom tomatoes, or open-pollinated tomatoes, are stabilized varieties that produce true seed every year. You can save the seeds from an heirloom year after year, and the seeds will produce the same variety every year. Many heirlooms are known for their outstanding flavor, and come in many colors - red, orange, yellow, pink, green, purple, and black. (Purple tomatoes are more of a pinkish-brown and black tomatoes are dusky red with dark green or brown shoulders.)
Some say that in order to be an heirloom, an open-pollinated tomato variety must be at least 50 years old. The definition of heirloom tomato is highly debated. I prefer to keep it simple and refer to all open-pollinated tomatoes as heirlooms, regardless of age or whether or not it was passed down through a family.
Preventing cross-pollination for saving heirloom tomato seedsIf you are growing more than one variety, and you plan to save the seeds from some of your fruit, you may want to consider the possibility of cross-pollination. Tomato flowers are self-pollinators, so most of the seeds you get will be true. However, a small percentage of tomato seeds grown near other varieties will be cross-pollinated - likely by insects.
You can expect 90-95% of the tomatoes you harvest to be non-crossed. But if you want to increase that number to 100% and have no accidental hybrid seeds, you can bag the blossoms before they open.
Bag the blossoms when they are buds before they open. Don't take the bag off till you have fruit growing inside the bag.
Click here for more info on bagging blossoms.
Regular Leaf or Potato Leaf?There are two main leaf types found in tomatoes. The most common, and what you are probably familiar with, is regular leaf. However, some varieties, most of which are heirlooms, have potato leaf foliage. The genetic trait for potato leaf foliage is recessive, which means that the dominant regular leaf trait is more common and is what most people are familiar with. See the photo below for a comparison:
The well-known heirloom variety Brandywine is a good example of a potato-leaf variety. The leaflets have much smoother edges and are somewhat larger than those of regular-leaf varieties. They resemble the foliage of potatoes - hence the name.
Fun fact: Potatoes are in the same family as tomatoes - Solanaceae (Nightshade family). In fact, many familiar plants belong to this family: Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, petunias, and tobacco. Also in this family are many poisonous weeds such as deadly nightshade and horse nettle.
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