is it worth it to grow heirloom tomato varieties?

Tomato    SC

I am fascinated by some of the heirloom varieties of tomato out there. In particular, I have been looking at a variety called 'indigo rose' which looks beautiful and sounds delicious. I am not a big tomato grower although I've had good success on occasion. The last time I grew some I had problems with blossom end rot on the fruit. What are the major differences between growing hybrids and heirloom varieties? I imagine that heirlooms are more susceptible to diseases so do they take a lot of extra care? I love to be in the garden but I don't get as much time as I would like (sure I'm not the only one) and I'm trying to decide if its worth the hassle.

Posted by: Melanie Young (6 points) Melanie Young
Posted: April 1, 2013

Jenny Robertson commented,
I have grown indigo rose before and really liked it, I recommend!
over 9 years ago.

Melanie Young commented,
Jenny, it looks wonderful, I think I might try it out

over 9 years ago.


Heirloom varieties can definitely be fun to grow, but also produce some challenges to the average backyard gardener. Physiological disorders like blossom end rot (actually a calcium/irrigation deficiency), concentric and radial cracking, yellow shoulders, catfacing, and zippering all can be more common in heirlooms (though not always). Also, you will see some heirlooms have disease resistance and some do not, while even more others may just be able to tolerate some diseases. Disease resistance varies drastically and you really just have to see which have more of an impact for your area, and which fruit can tolerate those diseases.

My suggestion is to research some heirloom cultivars from Seed Savers, or a similar heirloom supplier and find which are best suited for your area. If you pick one that can tolerate your temperature, light, moisture, and disease conditions then you'll probably have good luck with getting some fruit to harvest.

As for your "Indigo Rose"...that's actually not an heirloom and just a fun variety. It was produced from traditional plant breeding techniques out in Oregon. Just because a tomato has a different shape or color it doesn't make it an "heirloom".

Posted by: Kathryn Fiedler (72 points) Kathryn Fiedler
Posted: April 1, 2013

Melanie Young commented,
Thanks Kathryn, it sounds like I could run into a few problems that I may not have so much time for right now. If Indigo Rose is not an heirloom then I may be able to grow it without too many problems - except blossom end rot, I need to make sure that doesn't happen again
over 9 years ago.

Kathryn Fiedler commented,
Sounds like a good plan, Indigo Rose looks like an interesting one to try out. To prevent blossom end rot just make sure you are watering enough. It is caused by a lack of calcium (which is moved through water) and can be easily fixed if you increase irrigation. I'm reading about this variety now and it says that the fruit need to be in direct sunlight to produce that great dark purple color, so make sure you prune or situate the fruit so they get sunlight!
over 9 years ago.

So to clarify heirlooms are the seeds saved from many generations that have bred true to the characteristics the plants were being selected for. So over time you can grow and then pass on the seeds from your own "heirloom".

I feel it is definitely worth the the time and effort to grow heirlooms and save seeds from your own plants. But saving seed and plant selection for seed saving doesn't seem to be what your asking about so back to the question.

Major differences between growing heirlooms and hybrids that I have noted are speed of growth, back when I grew Early Girls (F1 hybrid) I would have plants that reached the top of my supports much earlier than the two heirlooms I would grow "Arkansas Traveler" and "Mortgage lifter". The number of fruits for me by comparison of those varieties would hands down go to the early girls. They put out upwards of 18lbs of tomatoes per plant. Though the early girls appeared way more susceptible to blossom end rot. Whether this was do to the accelerated plant growth not being able to keep up, or the shear number of fruits, or poor watering habits, demands were not being met. My other two varieties didn't lose a tomato. Though this is biased information as the early girls were Much larger plants (6 ft giants) and set fruit 2 weeks before either of the heirlooms(4 ft plants). So by the time I had noticed the blossom end rot I steadied out my watering and watered in some gypsum on all the plants.

My preference is for growing heirlooms since I enjoy their back stories and collecting the seeds. I have not found them to be more or less picky but I selected two heirlooms that were said to continue to set fruit at higher than normal temperatures, a characteristic I was looking for. So consider your environment and pick the plants that will do well there, be they heirloom or hybrid, growing the tomato plant is the important part.

Posted by: Wurgulf (1 point) Wurgulf
Posted: April 2, 2013

Heirlooms are absolutely worth growing! They offer a range of colors, sizes, shapes, and flavors. It's fun to read about their histories and origins, and experiment with different varieties each year. I haven't found them to be any more trouble than hybrids or modern varieties, though. Last year, out of 15 plants, the worst blossom end rot was on the single hybrid variety I planted. Based on the few hybrids I've planted, the flavors are good if I eat them alone, and certainly much better than any supermarket tomato. But compared to the heirlooms I've grown, hybrids taste flat. Their flavor lacks the complexity and range of the best heirlooms.

But here are some reasons why you might choose a hybrid.
* If specific diseases run rampant in your area, such as late blight or early blight, you may want to plant at least one resistant hybrid variety to increase your odds of getting or sustaining a crop. ("resistant" does not mean "immune")
* If you value uniformity, some hybrids may be better choices -- they may be rounder, redder, smoother, firmer, have tougher skins, etc.
* If yield is the most important factor, certain hybrids are known for prodigious yields (depends on your area and on how you grow them).

I'd make my choices based on the intended uses. If you don't think you'll have time to tend plants, it's hard to beat indeterminate cherry tomatoes or smaller varieties. It does take a long time to pick them all, but if all you need is a handful for a salad now and then, you can pick as needed.

Posted by: Tanya in the Garden (128 points) Tanya in the Garden
Posted: April 4, 2013

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