Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
August, 2010
Regional Report

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The yummy 'Black Krim' heirloom tomato is a delicacy dating from the Crimean War.

From Russia, With Taste

An heirloom is "something of special value handed on from one generation to another" (from 15th Century Middle English, heirlome, from "heir" and "lome," meaning implement).

Though a mere four months old, my new veggie garden has a European heirloom, the most delicious 'Black Krim' tomato whose rich, smidgen-of-salt flavor makes others pale in comparison. Just thinking of it makes my mouth water- and my mind wander into Bacon-Lettuce-and-Tomato-Sandwich land.

'Black Krim' is not a symmetrical, red, round tomato. If you're "looking" for perfect, you'd overlook the oddly shaped 'Black Krim.' No pretty, uniform, all-American appeal here. 'Black Krim' is knobby and partially dark-skinned, a "maroon beefsteak tomato with green shoulders."

As with all heirlooms, the 'Black Krim' comes with a story. It's the rare Russian variety, 'Czerno Krimski,' named after its place of origin, the Isle of Krim in the Black Sea, south of the Republic of Ukraine. This tasty gem is thought to date to the 19th century, when soldiers returning home from the Crimean War (1853 to 1856) gathered and shared the seeds. Eventually seeds were distributed throughout Europe.

This time- and world traveler arrived in my garden as a sample seedling from Hort Couture. The scrumptious, juicy fruits are medium to large-sized (10 to 14 ounces). They're fleshy and firm, perfect for slicing. They have a natural salty taste with a tinge of pepper. The plants are indeterminate yet well mannered enough to be recommended for containers.

Like all tomatoes, 'Black Krim' requires full sun. But they're thirsty plants that don't like dry spells, preferring routine, deep watering. I was neglectful, not realizing these were such treasures soon enough. Now one of my two plants has shriveled and died from lack of water during the long summer heat and drought.

Next time I'll water more diligently and I'll also trellis mine better. The hefty, heavy fruits weighed down the thick stems to near breaking. Some stems bent to the ground. My plants produced ripe tomatoes in early July. Info says fruit is mature from 70 to 80 days after germination.

As an heirloom tomato, it doesn't have disease resistance bred into modern hybrid tomatoes. In this case, the flavor is definitely worth the risk.

Heirloom Varieties
In the horticultural world, an heirloom variety is a cultivar that's survived for several generations. Fifty years, a hundred years, twenty years? Length of time is open for discussion. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits, such as fruit shape, flavor and color, flower color and form, crop yield, and disease resistance, through open pollination. Traditional farmers have sustained the varieties through many decades of cultivation, selection, and seed saving.

Open pollination is the natural way of flower fertilization, sans human intervention, by wind, insects, birds, animals, or other natural mechanisms. Properly grown (to prevent unwanted cross-pollination, if necessary) and saved, seeds produced through open pollination will produce the same variety year after year. This is in contrast to hybrids, which are a cross between two separate varieties. Seeds from hybrids will either be sterile or will not come true from seed.

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