This Week's Podcast: A Replay: Meet the Tomato Man
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Who better to talk about America’s favorite vegetable garden product than the “tomatoman?” That’s Craig LeHoullier’s email address. Craig is the tomato advisor to Seed Savers Exchange and he gardens and collects the seeds of favorites in Raleigh, North Carolina. Like all seed savers, he has a special interest in heirloom varieties. But a few hybrids slipped onto his list of favorites.
Craig’s new book is Epic Tomatoes: How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time. There is way too much in this book to cover in our chat, but we discuss some of the more unexpected things like saving seeds and some of the weird and fantastic kinds developed over the years.
I am interested in the stories behind every plant, and tomatoes have a thrilling history. Compared to many fruits and vegetables, these are relatively new. Their roots are in South America where they were berries no larger than a pea. They were thought by some to be poisonous, and the foliage might make one ill if tossed in a salad – but who would do that? The leaves do not smell very appetizing. The fruits however, are often (if not always) delicious.
Craig’s passion lies in more recent history — the time American seed companies from the mid 1800s and later (1870-1920).
“I've got a collection of 400 or so seed catalogs and would love to write a book tracing variety development — as well as what is still around vs. what appears to be lost.”
The old timers not only taste different, they come in many colors – all but blue. Striped ‘Green Giant’ is a favorite. Craig and I both love ‘Sun Gold’.
My growing season is short, and like many people, apparently, I grow mine in containers on the sunny driveway. I would love short season, short stature plants. Craig’s own hybridizing efforts are towards that end.
To help with my short season, Craig recommends early tomatoes (short season) “Days to maturity info is pretty meaningless for those with long, hot summers like me — but I realize how important it can be for shorter seasons. I can name a few – ‘Gregori's Altai’, most cherry tomatoes, some of the good Russian ones that the Seed Savers Exchange brought in – ‘Black from Tula’, ‘Azoychka’, for example.”
A few of the tomatoman’s all-time favorites? ‘Sun Gold’ (a hybrid – gasp), ‘Green Giant’, ‘Lucky Cross’, ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Lillian's Yellow’. To learn more, visit The Epic Tomato blog.