Last season our garden crew grew out 17 of our most popular tomatoes for seed. (This is by no means all of the most popular, we just didn’t need to grow out all of them for seed last season). When I say ‘most popular’, I really mean the cultivars that stand out to us from our huge collection, the best of the best!. We have been growing out our NZ heritage tomato collection every year for 30 years now, not all of them every year but all of them many times.
To import or not?
Initially I was very tempted to import seed from all the sexy tomato catalogues and companies around the world, there are amazing looking variations on the tomato theme around! About 20 years ago after having been spending time each summer over at Heronswood in Melbourne with David Cavagnaro who was then working with Seed Saver’s in the USA, I decided to bring all of their best cultivars here and trial them to see what I thought of them.
New Zealand’s Climate
The big thing that came from that trial was that none of them performed anywhere near as well as our own heritage cultivars. We have a very unique climate here in NZ. It is far more humid than most other places they are grown, we have a maritime humid climate, and tomatoes come from places with a humidity of around 10%. It become very that year that those that have been in this land for 100 years or more are simply better adapted to this climate.
NZ vs. the world
A couple of years after that trial the NZ Herald ran a large article complaining about how bad heritage tomatoes were….. they had been asking people what they thought of heritage tomatoes. The feed back they were getting was that they were very, very prone to blight and were not standing up well. They were not asking where their heritage tomato seed was coming from. If they had, they would have discovered that those people they had asked were buying their seed from companies selling heritage tomato seed from overseas mainly California and Italy.
If they had asked us we would have been able to explain why they got such bad results. (They are somebody else’s heritage tomatoes, they are not adapted to a climate with around 80% humidity, California having 10 % humidity year round!) They did ask us later and we showed them our tomatoes and they ran a story on them which was great.
New Zealand heritage tomatoes
Our own tomatoes have had a process of around 100- 150 years of adaption to our own soils and climate and have been selected to do well in these conditions! It makes a big difference. Nothing has changed… this season we added a new tomato to our range for trial, the tomato that is being touted as the most nutritious tomato these days… Earl of Edgecombe, a yellow tomato. It performed so badly that it basically produced almost nothing compared to all of the others , all NZ heritage lines.
There is no use being the most nutritious tomato if it s not adapted to NZ conditions. We had psyllid in our tomatoes last season, and so did not harvest as heavy a crop as we should have, however we learnt a lot about which cultivars are the most resistant to them , there were big differences between them in terms of being able to handle a psyllid infestation.
The winning tomatoes
The outstanding tomato was Oxheart, it cropped the heaviest, and we love that tomato anyway great for every thing…. It is an old Dalmatian gumdigger introduction to NZ in around 1880!
We had 5 tomatoes vying for second place in terms of production and resistance to psylllid:
Burbank (a really red reliable beefsteak by well known USA psychic plant breeder of the 19th tomato)
Hawkes Bay Yellow (our best cropping best tasting yellow, flattish, beefsteak type)
Scotland Yellow while not a beefsteak did very well and is super hardy in the South Island, good flavour when fully ripe goes orange when really ripe,
Wonder was also in the top producing range and that is our earliest fruiting tomato (apart from Henry’s Dwarf Bush Cherry which we grow under cloches and in containers for very early fruiting).
Garden Peach, is a super productive tomato that has a peach like look about it and some people love it, others don’t. It is a super healthy plant with high production. And some of our best were not in that growout eg Watermouth, J Walsh, Russian Red, Tommy Toe, Kings Gold, Calrton Victory and Black Roma.