The Great Tomato Conundrum

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

One thing that has always confounded me during tomato growing season, and confounded a number of heirloom tomato growers, is the simple question of WHY?

Such as: Why did this plant die? Why is plant tall, healthy and attractive, yet isn't producing a single tomato?

But the best "why" question of the bunch is "how did this happen" and "why aren't more people growing these?"

Those questions usually indicate a tomato "winner" in the garden, and I've been blessed this year to have many of them. One of the best was completely unexpected.

This is my second year for growing the Campbell's 1327. Blight and disease nearly took this plant from me last year before it finally recovered and gave me a late crop of large, tasty, red and round tomatoes. Based upon the production I saw out of this plant late last year, I decided to give it another shot this year.

I have not been disappointed. If anything, I am pleasantly surprised. This is one strange plant. It's doing things and growing in a way that I have never seen a tomato plant do before. But the most impressive thing about the Campbell's 1327 is the production. This plant -- which is the smaller plant to the left in this photo -- was planted at the same time as the plant to the right -- the Pruden's Purple. Yet -- as you can easily tell -- the Pruden's Purple is twice the size of the Campbell's 1327.

Yet, the Pruden's Purple has only produced two tomatoes at this point, while the smaller Campbell's 1327 has produced ten ripe tomatoes so far, and by the photos, appears to be very intent on producing a lot more. Why is this plant turning out so much fruit, but looks somewhat stunted? Why is the Pruden's Purple, or the Rainbow Beefsteak, planted right next to the Campbell's 1327 growing so much quicker?

The experts expound:

"Too much water!"

"Not enough water!"

"Too much fertilizer!"

"Not enough fertilizer!"

I have my own suspicions about why the plant growth on this Campbell's 1327 is so stunted. It's growing so many tomatoes, at once, it doesn't have the energy. I'm not sure what I'm doing right with this particular plant, but I sure wish I could bottle it and use it on some of the non-productive plants. Every single blossom on the Campbell's 1327 seems to turn into a tomato. I've never seen production quite like this before. And I've certainly never seen this type of growth pattern before.

Campbell's 1327 got its name from the Campbell's Soups that we were all raised on at one time or another. If you've ever had a bowl of Vegetable Beef, Vegetable, or Campbell's Tomato Soup, you've tasted the Campbell's 1327 in action. This was, at one time, the primary processing tomato used in all Campbell's Soup products.

But time has a way of changing practices and habits. At some point in time, someone made the decision to abandon this open-pollinated wonder. The advent of genetic engineering produced tomato plants that could grow in any type or soil or climate. Or, perhaps spoilage was a major concern. I don't really know why Campbell's abandoned the 1327 -- but at some point -- they did.

Thank goodness that someone decided to save seeds of this wonderful variety. If they hadn't, this variety would have been lost to future generations.
Campbell's 1327 produces large, red and round tomatoes in the 1 lb. range. Some are bigger. Some are smaller. It's an excellent slicing tomato for burgers or sandwiches. A single slice will cover the big burger buns. It's good in salads. It's fantastic in sauce. It's sweet, juicy and has a hint of acid.

And it will always have a home in the garden of Bill & Venus Bird.

1 comment:

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Yep. You are right, the little Campbell's is too busy pumping out babies to grow.

A lot of heirloom tomatoes get big and sprawly before they -- all of a sudden -- set a ton of tomatoes. My brandywine (which you have maligned in other forums) is one of these.

I wonder if the bloody butcher tomato you have me wasn't really a Campbells? It is doing much the same thing: Lots of smallish tomatoes, weird growth habit. My plant is four feet tall, however, because I pinch off every flower until July 1...