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Influences in Breeding

My love of heirloom tomatoes began 60 years ago in my Grandfather’s garden. He was a friend of Ben Quisenberry who we’re indebted to for saving ”Brandywine” and other great tomatoes. Because of this, my early gardens had Brandywines, Mortgage Lifters and others passed along by Ben. My taster’s tongue was set for a delicious and healthy Brix factor very early on. Later, I acquired seed from elder Italians and area Amish and Mennonites. A neighbor gave me a beautiful unknown German variety and a retired executive introduced me to the ”Anderson” tomato he brought back from Rome. The Anderson is listed with SSE while ”German” became one of Johnny’s Selected Seeds early heirloom offerings.

As my gardens expanded I noticed more ”natural crosses”. Some surpassed earlier favorites so I started making careful selections. That is what inspired me to breed later in life. Originally, I selected for flavor, shape, vigor and productivity. Disease resistance was never an issue because my gardens were well-fortified. In time some of these declined. I was selecting primarily for beautiful large fruit, shape and vigor. My garden was too small to avoid all mutation but I started selecting for more genetic variability.

In 2006 I picked up Carolyn Male’s book on heirloom tomatoes and began doing some serious seed trading. I had grown 100’s of other heirlooms within a few years and was ready for a dedicated breeding experiment. Most of my favorites today were bred in 2008. It was perfect at pollination time…not too wet and not too dry. The climate has shifted considerably since then. My choices for parentage primarily centered around large, flavorful reds/pinks that were meaty and few-seeded. They needed to be similar to or better than the tomatoes of my youth and were usually potato or wispy-leaved.

”Rebel Yell”( Stump x Bear Paw) came from that breeding cycle as did ”Millwood’s Inspiration” (Jewish x Guido). The first was in honor of Ben Quisenberry while the second was dedicated to Gary Millwood. My friendship with the saver of Kentucky heirlooms paralleled that of Grandpa’s with Ben. ”Brandywine x Carbon” was initially very promising. In time, the yield declined but I’m getting that back-there seems to be a theme running through all this from my youth until today. That theme would be the preservation of classic regional heirlooms and breeding efforts with them.

I love the amazing colors and varieties of tomatoes as much as anyone, yet something in my bones (..and tongue) keeps me centered upon ”indigenous” tomatoes. I enjoy tomatoes that have stood the test of time because of their flavor, vigor and year-after-year fine performance. Breeding is a creative endeavor and we each need to follow our passions. Meanwhile, my tomato instincts inform me that breeding for ”sustainable value” will become very important. Our climate changes will demand that. Experience with regional varieties with vigor, flavor and resilience will be an asset. Any ”tweaking” we do in breeding will be based upon the differences in weather each region will continue to experience.

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