Brandywine, Green Zebras, and German Queens

With spring on the horizon and the grass in my backyard finally being revealed from the 5 feet of snow that has covered it for the last 3 months, it’s time to start my heirloom tomatoes!  What are heirloom tomatoes you ask?  They are the beautiful, multi-colored, and generally expensive tomatoes sold in natural food grocery stores.  More specifically, heirloom tomatoes are open pollinated, which means they are pollinated by other plants, creating viable seeds that can be harvested and replanted year after year.

Typically you will find only one or two kinds of tomatoes in nursery or grocery stores. Most of our produce is grown in large monocultures of just one variety that have been breed to have certain desirable characteristics: disease-resistant, round, blemish free, drought-resistant, high yielding, etc.  A good idea at first glance (who wouldn’t want higher yield?), but dangerous when you consider the possibility of a pest or disease we didn’t anticipate wiping out an entire crop.  What is that old saying? Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket?

Heirloom tomatoes come in many varieties and all with a history.  Some seeds have been shared by family and neighbors for generations…passed on, in some cases, for hundreds of years.  Here is the history of the Brandywine variety:  “It (Brandywine) reached modern popularity after being introduced via the Seed Savers Exchange in 1982 by an elderly Ohio gardener named Ben Quisenberry. He received the variety from a woman named Dorris Sudduth Hill who could trace Brandywine in her family for over 80 years. Brandywine has become one of the most popular home garden cultivars in the United States.” (wikipedia)

To be growing and eating the same things our ancestors were eating, is incredible to me.  We are truly going back to our ‘roots’ when we bite into a juicy heirloom tomato.  Tomatoes are not the only vegetable that is available in heirloom varieties…  So I challenge you to try something new this summer and go to Seed Savers Exchange to purchase heirloom seeds!


  1. Thanks for the great info Katie…I’ll try the seed store downtown Denver. When my grandmother immigrated to America from Prussia as a young girl, she would not eat tomatoes for the longest time – convinced they were poison. In later life, of course, she had a garden full of them!

  2. Heirloom tomato plants and seed have become much more available in the last few years. I know my mom has bought some heirloom plants at Tagawas in Parker. Here, in Durango, you can buy heirloom seeds at Ace Hardware. So they are regularly available.

  3. This is fascinating- open pollination probably helps to promote biodiversity too.

  4. Tomatoes – not just red anymore! There is just something better about the flavor for homegrown vs. store bought. I never knew tomatoes could reseed over and over. Thanks!

  5. Can’t wait for this years crop. Nothing like a burbank slicer!!

  6. Great comments. Very interesting history of the seeds. I enjoy growing them and watching the gardens flurish.


  7. I always wondered why they were called ‘heirloom’ tomatoes after seeing them featured in restaurants and at farmer’s markets. Too bad we don’t have more space (and sun exposure during the day) on our balcony to plant some. Thanks for the info Katie. :)

  8. I was thinking the same thing, despite the fact I will be in KZ then. Nice article Kate!! It makes me very excited to get back to my garden and compost.

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