"Eighth Wonder of the World" Heirloom Tomato

Judy Henninger
Adams County Master Gardener

I remember going to my grandparent's house, when I was younger, to see the "Eighth Wonder of the World", my grandfather's tomato plants. I can still picture that amazing scene. The plants grew tall, full, and larger than life on a wooden trellis in his back yard. To a child they seemed to grow high into the sky. The branches were full of big, round, red fruit. I remember how carefully he pulled off the fruit and gave it to us to eat like an apple. Now the taste was out of this world. The juice would run down our chins as we bit into a delicious sensation of the taste buds. It really was the "Eighth Wonder of the World."

My grandfather had big hands, but he was always gentle with his tomatoes. He would stare at his "wonder" until he found the perfect fruit. I can still see him cutting into the red fleshy fruit and tenderly separating the seeds. He placed the seeds into water, rinsed them off, and set them to dry. Later, he would package them until he planted them in the spring. Little did I know that I was witnessing the tradition of the Heirloom tomatoes, saving seeds to be passed down from generation to generation.

My mother continued the tradition of planting tomato plants in her garden, but unfortunately she had nine people to feed, so she couldn't take the time to harvest and save the seeds from one year to the next. She had to rely on the local greenhouse to provide her with tomato plants. So sadly the tradition on the "Eighth Wonder of the World-Heirloom tomato" was lost.

Last year, I took the Adams County Master Gardeners Course. One of the main things I learned is that no matter how much you know, there's always more to learn. The course gave me multiple tools and opportunities to continue my "gardening" education. But most of all, it gave me the opportunity to continue one of my grandfather's traditions.

Master Gardeners have Trial and Demonstration gardens at the Extension Office. I signed up for one of the raised beds and decided to compare growing Heirloom to Hybrid tomatoes. Mind you, I'm no expert, I'm still learning too! Heirloom tomatoes are making a come back and are becoming more popular. More people are growing them. I decided I wanted to learn more about them and how they compare to hybrid tomatoes.

Hybrid seeds are specifically pollinated under controlled conditions. They are usually more vigorous, have greater uniformity, have better production, and are more resistant to diseases and pests. Most people grow these varieties. Some well known names are Big Boy, Early Girl, Better Boy, Beefsteak, and Roma.

Heirloom seeds are generally a variety of tomatoes that have been passed down through several generations because of their valued and unique characteristics. They come in various shapes, sized, unusual colors, and come from all over the world. Today, heirloom tomatoes are being commercially produced.

"Why do people grow Heirloom tomatoes?" Many people grow them to continue the family tradition. They are easy to grow, yet challenging and rewarding to start something from seed and watch it grow to maturity. Heirlooms are less expensive to grow, costing only your time, energy and some potting soil. The majority of gardeners say they grow them for their delicious flavor. I'm told you get less fruit from the heirlooms, but you can't beat their taste. They will add a rainbow of color to your garden, as well as your table. You can find red, pink, yellow, orange, gold, black, white, green, and striped that come in an amazing combination of colors.

Heirloom tomatoes have unique names that often indicate the color or the area of its origin. Most people have heard of Brandywine, Old Germany, Pineapple, and Oxheart. Some other interesting names are Big Belgium, Amish Gold, Austrian Red Pear, Black Krim, Aunt Ruby's German Green, White Beauty, Ella's Pink Plum, Half Moon China, Grandma Oliver's Green, and Cherokee Chocolate. The list of varieties goes on and on, one more interesting than the next.

My research of heirloom tomatoes is endless and is being fed by my desire to start a family tradition of my own to be passed down to my children. It began with planting heirlooms in a trial garden. Who knows, I may just grow my own "Eighth Wonder of the World."

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