Just like potatoes, tomatoes are members of the Solanaceae family. Contrarily to potatoes, which are also termed outbreeders, as they do not like being self pollinated; some wild forms even developed mechanisms to prevent this; tomatoes do not mind self pollination, at least when it comes to our known edible varieties. Therefore, they are characterised as inbreeders.
All old tomato varieties emerged through a relatively random cross and subsequent selection from a selfing inbred strain. In order for a strain to become stable approximately eight years, respectively eight generations are needed. In today’s plant breeding the single generations are called filial lines, where F1 is the first generation after the initial cross and F8 the eighth where the strain should be stable.
Most seed packs available for sale are labelled with F1, thus the strain is not yet stable. By investing time, one can continue breeding the strain until it is stable. All one has to do is define the breeding goals and select accordingly.
But why would commercial offer „unstable“ F1 seed?
First of all, the amount of work needed is smaller. Instead of investing multiple years in breeding, the seeds can be sold directly after the initial cross. All F1 plants look alike and are also all equally productive. Productivity can also be higher. This usually does not have any significance for tomatoes, but for outbreeders such as potatoes or more extremely by corn, where most strains are heavily inbred, F1 yields can be up to 40% higher compared to the parental generation.
However, a gardener or farmer cannot just create his own highly productive F1 seed, as the parental strains are unknown and not available on the market, as they are treated as corporate secrets by large seed companies.
A paradigm shift at home
In the meantime a movement has startet, shifting away from the trend of F1 hybrid varieties and fighting the loss of genetic diversity, a concomitant of the rise of the few large seed corporations. Old varieties are gaining popularity. These heirlooms are protected and maintained by organisations such as ProSpecieRara in Switzerland, ArcheNoah in Austria, VEN in Germany or Kokopelli in France and Belgium. This tradition of seed saving and maintaining varieties has existed for a longer time in English speaking regions. There some of the private SeedSaversExchange organisations date back to the 1920’s, supporting seed exchange over garden fences and field boarders.
Varietas was founded, following the tradition of preserving old varieties, yet in a time where climate change and globalisation are most prevalent, we are willing to take it a step further. Not only are we dedicated to the preservation of old varieties, but we also try to combine their desired traits into new varieties, better equipped to deal with all the problems accompanying climate change and globalisation. These new varieties can better cope with changing weather patterns or newly spread pathogens, without losing out on taste.
Our tomato varieties can be split into four categories:
Firstly the old varieties from preservation programs.
Early own breeding lines from cherry tomatoes and other tasty wonders.
Our breeding efforts on black tomatoes, and we mean really black, not brown.
And last but not least or varieties tolerant against various diseases such as Fusarium or brown and stem rot, a welcoming alternative for uncovered outdoor tomato production.
Cherries are the smallest varieties, however, the transition to salad tomatoes is uninterrupted. Here we refer to tomatoes that can be easily eaten in one normal bite.
Salad tomatoes have the classic seize as can be found in any supermarket and are ideal, as the name suggests, for salads. But they can also be enjoyed cooked. A special form of salad tomato is the Pelati, meaning peeled tomato in Italian; some of which are also considered their own category. The elongated, fleshy varieties with only few seeds are ideal for cooking sauce.
Beef tomatoes are the largest tomatoes and can grow to be multiple kilograms heavy. Tastewise they are less intense as the smaller varieties, but sliced and put on a piece of fresh bread with some salt and or pepper sprinkled on top they make for an amazing summer snack.
Tomato shapes can be anything from pear shaped to egg shaped to round, flat, pepper shaped or hear shaped. Some varieties are hollow and therefore make for good stuffed tomatoes.
The Italian name „Pomodoro“, golden apple, indicates that the first known tomatoes were not red as most of them are today, but rather yellow or orange. In addition to these colors there are also white, green, brown or chocolate colored varieties and some new ones even reach dark black.
Here three shapes can be distinguished with transition stages.
Potato-shaped leafs have a large cohesive leaf area without any large crevices.
Tomato-shape leafs have more crevices, resulting in a more loose leaf structure.
Carrot-shape leafs have many crevices and many small and delicate leaflets.
Despite all the visual differences that can occur between different tomato varieties, when it comes to sowing and maintenance they are pretty much all the same. Sowing is ideally done from approximately the end of February to the end of March, young seedlings are pricked out and transplanted into single pots after the first two real leafs are grown. After the Ice Saints (usually mid May), the plants can be planted outdoors, ideally protected by the rain. When watering the plants, one must pay attention to only wet the ground and not splash any water onto the plant, as pathogens such as brown rot only spread via water. So the simplest way to keep your plants healthy is by keeping them dry. Harvest time is from June to September. Not only do you get sweet, juicy fruit but also seeds, which can be set aside for the following year.