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Tomato Tales: From behind the Iron Curtain

Aug 3rd, 2016 | Category: Growing

by Celt Schira

The former Soviet sphere of influence has given us splendid tomatoes. Galina’s Yellow Cherry was smuggled out of the USSR by Bill McDorman of Seeds Trust in 1989. Dr. Galina, last name never mentioned, was an agronomic scientist at the Siberian Institute of Horticulture. She slipped Bill a package of 50 tomato varieties through the bus window, when he was on a garden tour of Siberia. Galina’s Yellow Cherry is a wonderfully flavorful 1-inch tomato on tall potato-leaf vines. Give it a good 4-foot diameter spot and plenty of support.

Galina’s Yellow Cherry.

Galina’s Yellow Cherry.

Home gardening had a whole different cultural role in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe than it did here. While we perfected industrial agriculture and mega supermarkets, ever narrowing the genetic base of our food and concentrating production in fewer locales, home gardens and small market gardens produced up to 90 percent of the vegetables behind the Iron Curtain for most of the 20th Century.

Backyard tomato breeders flourished in the breech. Sometimes these sophisticated amateurs were assisted by the professionals. Moskovich was bred by the Vavilov Institute outside of Moscow, specifically for home gardening. Moskovich is a mid-season red salad tomato, 4-6 inches in diameter. I love them because they are bulletproof in our cool late spring weather.

Black Plum is a sauce tomato that does very well in our sketchy weather. It produces abundant tresses of dark 2-inch long plum tomatoes with a rich, smoky taste. Black Plum makes exceptional marina sauce and is also good in salads. In was given to the Seed Savers’ Exchange (SSE) in 1991 by Marina Danilenko of Moscow. Opalka, a monstrous Polish sauce tomato, has a slightly longer season. A family heirloom from the early 1900s, it is also available to us from the SSE.

Stupice is widely available as plant in these parts. It is delicious, a rare quality in an early tomato. The squat plants set a crop in 60 days and then keep pumping out little red salad tomatoes until frost. Stupice was bred by Czechoslovakia in 1946. It is named for a village near Prague. A Czech named Milan Sodomka sent the seeds in 1976 to Forest Shomer, founder of of Abundant Life Seed Foundation in Port Townsend. Milan’s letter contained the seeds of seven tomato varieties and a long shopping list of seeds that he wanted. I have found this technique to work well, sending packets of Bellingham Blue sweet corn, Celt’s Racing Stripe Cabbage and local heirloom Navaho Grey squash in a nice letter asking for seeds of someone’s treasured heirloom. Abundant Life and its seed collection were destroyed by fire, but Stupice was adopted as a favorite local variety.

Druzba, or Drushba, at 85 days, is late for us, but it makes big fat red tomatoes, up to a pound, on sprawling indeterminate vines. It comes to us from Bulgaria via SSE.

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