The Trap

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Garden Porn
Gardening is indeed filled with them. I'm referring to "traps," of course. They are easy to fall into. They are hard to get out of. They are just as serious as the trap that many gardeners had fallen into before the onset of heirloom tomato madness.

Remember that trap? Remember, at one time, there were only three types of tomatoes? They were named Early Girl, Better Boy and ACE. Tomatoes were supposed to be red, remember? They were supposed to be perfectly round, do you recall that? Anything else was not a tomato. And so, you grew the same varieties year after year after year after year.

We simply didn't understand there was something better out there -- until we took that big jump -- that big leap of faith. Green tomatoes? Purple tomatoes? BLACK tomatoes?

Heirloom Tomato Seeds for the 2012 Garden!

This is indeed seed starting season for many tomato growers. Some have already planted. Even more will plant this weekend. Some may wait another week. But February is normally the "golden" month for tomato seed starting efforts on the Left Coast.

The trap that I am referring too is pictured all over in this blog posting. Mr. Postman has been stuffing our mail slot with lots and lots of tomato and vegetable porn lately. All catalogs carry the promise of big, beautiful heirloom tomatoes and a monster harvest. One good read and you can't wait for spring and planting season to arrive.

I can't do without Eva Purple Ball! I just CAN'T!
The trap springs shut when you begin to place your orders for the year. Heirloom growers are partial to certain varieties. Every heirloom tomato garden, for example, should include one or several different types of Brandywine. Don't dare pass on that Marianna's Peace! Black Krim is a must! And what about Bloody Butcher? Can you really do without a Kelloggs Breakfast?

It's very easy for heirloom tomato growers to start ordering the same varieties of heirlooms every single year. They did so well the year before, how can you possibly do without them? Suddenly, you begin to realize that you've fallen into the same trap and the same rut you were stuck in when you were under the mistaken belief that there were only three types of tomatoes: Round and Red.

Tatiana Kouchnareva, Tatiana's TOMATObase
It's very easy to stop experimenting with new varieties and stick with what is tried and true in your garden. Sure, you've expanded your base a little bit. But not nearly enough. There are literally THOUSANDS of varieties of heirloom and non-heirloom tomatoes. Tatiana's TOMATObase, for example, has an extensive listing of potato-leaf varieties. While some names are familiar, most are not.

Seed catalogs are sometimes helpful, but many times not. Many seed outlets offer the same type of seed for the same type of variety, year after year. They don't deviate much, even though they do service heirloom tomato growers. But they only scratch at the surface of what is truly available.

Cleota Pink Tomato
You're going to find a listing for Brandywine at Tomato Growers Supply, but a search for Cleota Pink won't yield much. The same holds true for Jagged Leaf, Kansas Depression, Burwood Prize or Gerig. These are ALL potato-leaf varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Finding seed sources for these varieties can be difficult. Google the names. See what comes up. Not much.

I'll be honest. I had nearly fallen into this trap. Sure -- I was growing heirloom tomatoes. But I found myself growing the same varieties year after year. There had to be space for a Brandywine. I couldn't do without a Campbell's 1327. A year without Druzba was a year without sunshine.

Gregory's Altai: A New Selection
See what I'm getting at? Where is the fun, excitement and discovery in growing the same varieties year after year after year? The point is -- there isn't any. And that is the trap.

So -- my pledge is this: I'm going to go without a few of the beloved varieties so I can continue experimenting in the garden. Yes, there will still be a Brandywine. But there will also be a Gregory's Altai. South Natomas grower Nels Christensen is also delivering a selection of seed featuring varieties I've never heard of before.

Change is a good thing. The trap will not spring shut this year.