Friday, October 11, 2013

Are my Tomatoes Genetically Modified?

Click on this image to see a slide show of this week's Spec. Load.

Dear Peter,
Is there any special care I should be giving these amazing sounding heirloom tomatoes? I really want them to do well and have sacrificed flower growing areas to plant them.

Wow, that's a bit daunting.  Sacrificing flower beds?  I had a conversation with James at Gardenworld Nursery about Heirloom Tomatoes this week as well.  James' point, and I have to agree is while the Heirloom varieties have wonderful flavour and look terrific they are less vigorous and disease resistant than the hybrid varieties.  There are those who will argue this point but quite frankly having grown both it is really unarguable, I'll go further and say that most hybrids have terrific flavour too as long as they are fully vine ripened. Some of them do have very tough skins though, helps them last on supermarket shelves. Of course this is true in most situations but not all.  I have a couple of favourites that are genuine Heirlooms: Principe Borghese and Riesentraube are tough, prolific varieties that produce fruit with terrific flavour. Alternatively I would choose Tomato Sweet & Neat (Hybrid variety) over Tiny Tim (Heirloom) every time for both flavour and disease resistance.

So do Heirloom Tomatoes require special care? No and yes. If the soil is not prepared to the nth degree and water is not applied generously, especially in the summer as the fruit starts to develop and the plant is stressed there is a fair chance that the Heirloom varieties will suffer before their younger cousins. Keep it simple: add lots of composted organic matter and animal manure. Tomatoes are big plants once they mature so they need plenty of food and the compost helps retain moisture.  Disease infestation of plants is often a response to stress so keep the plants healthy with a side dressing of fertilizer as the fruit starts to set, water regularly and deeply so the soil holds moisture but is not constantly boggy and prune excess shoots and foliage to allow air to move in and around the stems & fruit.  3-5 stems per plant is about ideal and try stripping away the old leaves around the base of the plant, before they start to yellow.  Once they go yellow they do not provide any nourishment and just cause problems.

One final thought on Tomatoes. None of the varieties we grow has been bred using GM technology.  Even the most expensive Hybrid varieties we supply for home garden growing are too old for GM breeding and the newest hybrids (that may or may not contain GM genes) are way too expensive for the home garden market. Hybrids like Apollo and Mighty Red are now 30 years old, tried & true.

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