Heritage tomatoes can have their flaws. Photo: nuvomagazine.com

Question: I always plant several varieties of heritage tomatoes all in a row in a small space. However, the fruits are not perfect and that intrigues me. Do pollinators mix the genetics of my 12 varieties and give me fruit other than what I expected?


Answer: No. In fact, tomatoes almost always self-pollinate: because of the structure of the flower, insects are rarely able to transfer pollen between two varieties, even on neighboring plants. Here’s an article on the subject: Keeping Tomatoes True. So, normally there is no genetic mixing going on.

Also, even if there were a genetic mix, it wouldn’t change the appearance and taste of fruits in the current season. It’s only the seeds of the second generation—therefore, those that you harvested yourself from heritage tomatoes growing side by side—which would contain a mixture of genes.

So, if you buy your heritage seeds a reputable seed supplier, there will be no problem with unwanted hybridization (mixing of genes). Only gardeners who harvest and then sow their own seeds from year to year need to worry about genetic mixtures. And in tomatoes, they’re exceedingly rare.

Ugly tomatoes are edible too! Photo: http://www.veganfreestyle.com

If fruits aren’t perfect, that isn’t necessarily due to genetic mixtures (unless your seed supplier isn’t very reliable), but is much more likely to be due to less-than-perfect or uneven growing conditions, diseases, insects, physical injuries to the fruit or other similar causes. In addition, as any good gardener knows, even ugly tomatoes are quite edible and even delicious: just cut off the booboo and enjoy!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “Imperfect Heritage Tomatoes

  1. I love tomatoes

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