Monday, November 16, 2009

Garden Heritage

So, I grew several herbs in pots this past year, most of which did VERY well (my basil was prettier than Cleveland Botanical Gardens, methinks!), and three tomato plants, which did not do all that great - I found it hard to maintain the moisture balance for a tomato in a pot. Still, I had some tomatoes, even if they weren't pretty.

Now we own the house, and next year there will be a bona fide garden. We've plotted the space, planned the raised beds, and the vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit trees and vines we'd like to grow. We went cruising an awesome place, Johnson Nursery & Garden Center, in Algood TN. (wow do they have nice trees, and beautiful herbs in November!) The goal is to grow as much of our plant food as we can in our small space, and get as much as we can from local farmers next year. More on being "locavores" later. Right now I want to talk tomato.

First, I want to introduce you to the concept of an heirloom plant. Heirlooms are plants that were grown during earlier periods in human history and are not used in large-scale agriculture. Unless you have an awesome grocery store, you will probably not find them there. You won't even find them in your typical seed catalog, though that is changing. They are not hybrids made for chemical resistance by chemical companies (yeah, even those seeds you're buying are bred by big business, in a lot of cases... I don't want to go that route). You can find a rainbow (literally - want purple carrots?) of varieties of tomatoes, squash, carrots, chard - you name it.

So, as much as possible, I'd like the vegetables and herbs in my garden to be heirloom. But I have special claim to one of them - the Soldacki tomato (picture above). My grandfather's family brought the seeds for these tomatoes from Krakow, Poland early last century, and since then they, and he, have been cultivating them and saving the seeds to propagate the next year's crop of these tomatoes. They are beefier than your Beefsteaks, reaching 1 lb. And they're very pink. These are the tomatoes I grew up on, and I had no idea they were special. A few years ago grandpa was showing a fellow gardener around his garden (which is maybe 1000 square feet, a tiny backyard in a suburb of Cleveland, OH) and introduced him to his "Polish tomatoes" - the man knew something about heirloom varieties, asked grandpa for some seeds, and now you can find the Soldacki tomato in most places that sell heirloom varieties.

Grandpa is convalescing from a hip fracture in a rehab center now... he fell this spring trying to weed his tomatoes at 86 years young. Mom grows some of them, but I'll need to keep them in the family. You can bet the Soldacki tomato will find a place in my Tennessee garden next year beside the squash someone's grandfather brought over from Europe and anything else I can find that carries on a tradition and has a story... and I'm spending the winter educating myself on the plants I want to grow and how to keep these stories alive for the next year. No hothouse tomatoes in this back yard!

If you'd like to order some seeds for these big pinkish tomatoes (they are amazing on a hamburger) you can find them at Reimer Seeds or Seed Savers Exchange.