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Gardening and More: Feeling adventurous? Try heirloom vegetables

Heirloom varieties can be tasty and fun to grow. This is “Old German,” which has outstanding flavor and few seeds.
HAMBURG — The color is the thing that you will love—or hate—about heirloom tomatoes. Heirlooms are purple or creamy yellow or even striped. Some people can’t abide by a tomato that’s not solidly red, but other people are drawn to heirlooms because of the odd colors.

“From that angle, they’re really fun,” said Jen Weber, retail manager at Mike Weber Greenhouses, located at 42 French Road in West Seneca.

Heirloom tomatoes are the old-fashioned varieties of plants that were grown generations ago. They were open pollinated; that is, one variety was in a garden near another variety and they mixed to form a new variety.

“It happens naturally,” Weber said. “They’re like those little volunteers that come up in your garden. The seeds from those have been saved.”

Our modern varieties of tomatoes are hybrids. Rather than set plants out in a field and wait to see what new varieties are formed by Mother Nature, hybridizers carefully crossed certain varieties to get the traits they wanted, such as a tomato with a nice red color. A plant with really red tomatoes is probably a hybrid, and the odd-colored tomatoes are generally heirloom varieties.

However, seed companies are creating new varieties of tomatoes with odd colors, Weber said. Even though those varieties are hybridized and not open pollinated, some people consider them heirloom tomatoes because they look similar.

Another trait that hybridizers select for is resistance to disease. The modern varieties of tomato plants are more resistant to disease than heirloom varieties are. Because of that, heirloom tomatoes may be harder to grow, Weber said. If you’re looking for a bit of a challenge, you might enjoy heirloom tomatoes.

Another reason people like to grow that type is to see what they taste like, she said.

If you decide to try heirloom vegetables this year, you can exhibit your best ones at the Fall Festival, featuring the Agricultural Fair to be held Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 4 and 5 at the Genesee Country Village and Museum, located at 1410 Flint Hill Road in Mumford. Find more details at the museum’s website at

Here are some of the heirloom tomatoes that are available at Mike Weber Greenhouses:

“Black Prince”

The flavorful tomatoes are mahogany brown and become orange-red at the blossom end; they get a deep color in sunnier locations. These tomatoes have less cracking than other heirlooms.


The round, smooth, golden orange fruit is meaty with few seeds. It has a mild flavor and low acidity.

“Black Krim”

It has dark red-purple fruit with green shoulders. The green-tinted flesh is very juicy. While growing they must be staked or caged.

“Cherokee Purple”

The skin is dusky pink with dark shoulders. The flesh ranges from purple to brown to green. It looks attractive sliced on a plate. It has a rich and full flavor that is often compared to the popular Brandywine Red.

“Brandywine Red”

These tomatoes have reddish-pink skin and very tasty red flesh. The large-lobed, beefsteak-shaped tomatoes are perfect for slicing. They are thin-skinned and not acidic. The plant is higher yielding in cooler weather.


It produces huge tomatoes weighing up to a pound. As its name implies, it has delicious flavor.

If you’re feeling a little adventurous, try heirloom tomatoes in your garden, for a colorful and delicious treat that comes straight from the ground outside your window.

Connie Oswald Stofko is publisher of, the online gardening magazine for Western New York. Email


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