Tomatoes are a favourite summertime treat in the home garden and a top-selling,high-profit crop on the farm. I’ve picked up a number of tricks over the past fifteen years of market gardening.
Variety selection is an important first step. A lot of people have discovered the wonderful diversity of tastes, textures and looks heirloom tomatoes offer. It seems that every year more people are growing them in home gardens and looking for them at farmers’ markets and in CSA boxes. As lovely as the heirlooms are, there are some compelling reasons to consider going with hybrids.
In growing seasons with a lot of cold wet weather, I have found that heirlooms tend to succumb to disease pressure while the hybrids survive. In fact, even in good years, the modern hybrids I grow almost always out-yield the heirlooms. Last summer, the difference was striking even though growing conditions had been excellent.
Walking down a row of cherry tomatoes in late summer, the hybrids were easy to pick out because they were still growing vigorously, mostly untouched by the powdery mildew that had crippled the heirlooms weeks before. Because of this, I plant mostly hybrid tomatoes in my market garden.
In addition to the problem with diseases, two of the heirloom’s positive qualities for the home gardener work against me as a market gardener. Their very thin skins and silken soft flesh makes heirlooms more difficult to handle, even on my very small commercial scale.