The number of heirloom tomato varieties that are available has increased dramatically over the last few years. According to Craig Lehoullier author of “Epic Tomatoes” there are now more than twelve thousand listings in the Seed Savers Exchange database. So unless you have your own particular favorite how on earth do you know where to begin? For a start you could read this transcript of an interview of Craig Lehoullier by Margaret Roach which I found on her A Way To Garden website.
Q. I thought tomatoes would be the right way to kick off the seed series, because tomatoes have got to be the favorite thing people grow.
The last time we spoke, you mentioned how where there were maybe 100 or 150 tomatoes in the Seed Savers Exchange collection in 1976, when you joined them, there are like 12,000 now, as I said in the intro. Do you have any idea of how many tomato varieties you have grown, and how many plants do you grow in an average year?
A. It has been just remarkable the explosion of tomato varieties, and there are so many factors for that. There is a restaurant I went to in Florida once, Bern?s Steak House, where they give you a phone book that is a wine list, and there are thousands of wines in it. When I looked at the Seed Savers yearbook, I think trying to choose tomatoes has become as simple or as complex?depending how you see it.
I probably have tested at this point somewhere around 3,000 or more varieties. When you get involved in a breeding project, that makes your numbers explode, because you are trialing different tomatoes, but they may not have a name yet. They are on a journey toward being released, or to the compost bin, because they simply don?t make the grade.
You have to be tough, because with so many great tomatoes out there you have to be willing to say, ?I?m sorry, this one will get spit out when somebody?s not looking, because it doesn?t taste very good.? [Laughter.]
In my collection I think I am up to 5,000 or 6,000 varieties. It?s daunting thinking about how the calendar flips so fast, thinking about all the things I want to do, but also about how the sun on my property is starting to decrease?
Q. Oh me, too.
A. ?which is going to necessitate smaller gardens and real careful, tactical thinking about what I need my garden to produce. What is my garden going to be for?instead of taking a scattershot approach and trying lots of different things.
Q. People should understand that you have a lot of your plants in grow bags or pots in what was once your driveway before you commandeered it. [Laughter.] In an average year, how many tomatoes would you say you?re growing?how many plants?
A. I?m still doing seed saving [in mid-December]. I did a second planting, and picked a lot of them green before the first frost. So I am up to Lot Number T16-186?I have saved seed from 186 varieties this year, which is a really good year. I?d say on average, 150 to 200.
I was thinking, waiting for your call for our chat, that a gardener?s year really isn?t a straight line with a start and a finish, but it?s a circle?and it?s wherever you are in the circle. ?We are now in the planning, thinking about what just happened, and what we want to have happen next. Time flies for gardeners, and I would expect time for us maybe goes by faster than for anyone else.
Go to the next page to read more of the discussion between Craig Lehoullier and Margaret Roach.