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Tomato Tales: A look at Green Zebra, Brandywine, and Heinz 2653

Jun 1st, 2016 | Category: Growing

by Celt Schira

Nothing compares to the glorious tomatoes of summer, ripe and juicy.

The fabulous Green Zebra, with its slightly citrus tang, is seldom found even in farmer’s markets.  The small plants have only a modest yield, which makes them uneconomical for farmers. Green Zebra is green even when ripe, but the stripes turn from light green to yellow and the base gets a little blush color. Tom Wagner of Everett bred Green Zebra and introduced it in his Tater Mater catalog in1983. Tom has taken a rest from seed sales this year, but Green Zebra is around in catalogs.

Tomato in watercolor. BY CELT SCHIRA

Tomato in watercolor. BY CELT SCHIRA

The legendary Brandywine tomatoes are a little late for this area, but they are worth waiting for. The original Brandywine is the pink one, first mentioned in seed catalogs in the 19th century.  Brandywines are big sprawling plants with “potato leaves,” ovoid leaves resembling a potato plant, rather than the familiar lacy tomato foliage. These big fat juicy tomatoes are so fragile that they hardly survive transport from field to farm stand. The pink Brandywine has such genetic diversity that it is more properly called a landrace than a variety, leading to regional strains and fierce debates. The Sudduth strain is the accepted official one, but it’s from Ohio and takes more heat hours than we can provide. Territorial carries a pink Brandywine which has been adapted to our sketchy Northwest Climate, shrink wrapped to 85 days maturity.

Brandywines also come in red, the intensely flavored Yellow Brandywine, and the recently introduced Black Brandywine.  The blacks have deep mahogany shoulders. They are the result of a cross between Pink Brandywine and Black Krim, another delicious tomato well worth the home gardener’s time.  The red and yellow Brandywines are large, potato leaf beefsteaks with excellent flavor, and may have just appropriated the name for marketing purposes. The black is genetically unstable, with both regular and potato leaves, but the fruit is magnificent. Black tomatoes (actually brownish or purplish) have a special spicy flavor.

Brandywines crack around the stem if they are unevenly watered. Even watering is probably impossible to achieve around here without a greenhouse, so keep in mind that the cracking is just cosmetic.

Heinz developed a canning tomato just for the Pacific Northwest. It goes by the romantic name of Heinz 2653, and it is a very fine sauce and ketchup tomato.  They set a big load of fruit that ripens all at once, just what you need for processing, and they have a nice flavor. Many sauce tomatoes have the flavor bred out in the search for uniformity and ability to withstand shipping. I found that Heinz 2653 is not all that early, but the compact plants will keep producing until frost after the first flush is harvested.

Back in the day, Heinz contracted with farmers to grow regional tomatoes for regional canning plants.  Heinz 2653 was developed for our maritime climate. Now they grow vast quantities of hybrid tomatoes in warmer places than ours, and just ship ketchup all over the country.

Heinz 2653 vanished from commerce for a good decade, after Heinz went to all hybrids. I had the seed from Abundant Life Seed Foundation, before they burned down.  In 2012, I grew a goodly patch at Broadleaf Farm in Everson and selected for early maturity. I named the selection Everson Blocky, our very own and easier to pronounce.

Heinz 2653 is enjoying a comeback. Fedco carried the seed last year, and this year several companies have plants or seeds.

Celt likes to say that as a vegetable breeder, she is a very well trained electrical engineer. Self employed as an engineer and tax preparer, Celt calls gardening her self-unemployment insurance. She teaches gardening at the Chuckanut Center in Fairhaven.

Published in the June 2016 issue of Grow Northwest

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