Category Archives: CSU Master Gardener Plant Sale

Heirloom and Modern Tomatoes at CSU’s Master Gardener Plant Sale

The 14th annual CSU Master Gardener plant sale fundraiser will take place at Denver’s Harvard Gulch Park, 888 E Iliff Avenue (at Emerson) on Saturday, May 18 from 8 am to 3 pm and Sunday May 19 from 10am to 3pm or till sold out.

In preparation for the sale, Denver Master Gardeners have been busy nurturing over 7200 fruit and vegetable plants from seed in the City of Denver’s City Park Greenhouse. When the plants make their debut you’ll find a dizzying selection of strong, healthy specimens for your summer garden. Herbs, annuals and perennials round out the offerings.

The tomato plants are definitely one of the stars of the show – forty seven varieties in all – including heirloom and modern (hybrid) cultivars.

What differentiates a heirloom from a modern tomato?

Horticulturists define heirloom seeds as those that are “open pollinated” by  insects, birds, wind or other natural means and retain the same traits from generation to generation. Seedlings will produce the same size and color fruit on a plant with the same growth habit and the same flavor from one generation to the next.

Depending on the variety, heirloom tomatoes can be red, purple, green, yellow, speckled or bi-colored. The fruit can have smooth skin but many varieties have a beautiful ribbed surface. Popular indeterminate (produce fruit throughout the season after maturity) heirlooms available at the sale include:

 

‘Brandywine Red’ – a large, flavorful red-pink beefsteak fruit which matures in 90 days.

‘Purple Cherokee’ – pink-purple fruit with a rich, sweet flavor. Excellent in salads and on sandwiches. Matures in 80-90 days.

‘San Marzano’ – Favored by Italian cooks for a meaty, complex, sweet flavor which is especially delicious on pizza and in sauces. Matures in 85-90 days.

‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’ – Large (up to 1 lb!) green fruit with a strong, sweet fruity flavor. A frequent taste test winner which slices especially well. Matures in 85 days.

Many experts define heirloom seeds as those introduced prior to 1950. By contrast, modern (hybrid) varieties were introduced to the market after World War II for the purpose of improving disease resistance and increasing shelf life and yields. The modern varieties became popular because the home gardener could avoid battling tomato diseases and commercial growers could count on reliable, cost effective crops.

If you are thinking that modern tomatoes lack classic, true tomato taste, you are not alone. Some hybrids sacrifice flavor for other traits. However, in fairness, taste is highly subjective!  

Modern varieties are popular taste-pleasers and are definitely worth adding to your garden. We’ve grown ten hybrid cultivars including two crowd pleasing indeterminate cherry varieties.

‘Cherry Sun Gold’ – Prolific golden-orange cherry-sized fruit with high sugar content. A frequent taste test winner which can be grown in a large pot. Matures in 70 days. Kids eat ‘em like candy!

‘Chocolate Cherry’ – Clusters of 1” port wine fruit with a rich, tangy flavor. A productive plant which matures in 70 days.

As Plant Sale Chair Maureen Horton explained here, two heirloom marriage tomatoes ‘Cherokee Carbon’ and ‘Genuwine’ are new this year. Heirloom marriage tomatoes are hybrids that cross two heirloom varieties to produce a tomato with the best qualities of each heirloom.

Truly the “best” tomatoes are the ones you enjoy the most and thrive in your garden. It’s also fun to introduce a new variety to your garden and palette. If you join us for the sale, master gardeners will help you make your selection and share tips for success.

For more information:

www.facebook.com/CSUDenverhort

CSU Fact Sheet: Recognizing Tomato Problems

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener