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Planting Heirloom Tomatoes

Cultivate these vintage and delicious varieties of tomatoes in your garden.

A variety of vegetables are collected in this garden basket that sits on the soil.

From artichokes to zucchini, heirloom vegetables have become trendy, and heirloom tomatoes in particular are getting most of the attention. According to master gardener Paul James, the reason is simple: "Heirloom tomatoes often taste much better than their hybridized cousins."

An heirloom plant is one that has been open-pollinated; it hasn't been hybridized, and as a result, it grows true from a seed. Its ancestry must be traceable back to at least 50 years, and it must have some sort of history, although it doesn't really seem to matter whether its history is well documented or based largely on folklore.

In this heirloom-tomato garden there are 26 varieties, each with a distinctive flavor, and in many cases, a very interesting past.

'Brandywine' is one of the best-tasting tomatoes of all time, Paul says. "It's an Amish variety whose roots can be traced all the way back to 1885. Of course, it's almost certainly much older than that, but that's as far as heirloom historians can trace it."

Another interesting tomato is 'Caspian Pink', so named because it's native to an area near the Caspian Sea and because it's pink. According to Paul, this tomato is meaty and very flavorful.

'Pineapple' bears hefty (sometimes up to two pounds) tomatoes with a mild flavor that's almost tropical-fruity-sweet. 'Nebraska Wedding' is an old favorite largely because it marries a near perfect balance of sweetness and acidity.

Because heirloom vegetables haven't been hybridized, they may be more susceptible to disease. "But what they lack in terms of disease resistance," Paul says, "they more than make up for in terms of what matters most - flavor."

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