Health Benefits of Growing Heirloom Tomatoes

I have long advocated for growing and consuming heirloom vegetables, particularly tomatoes. Not that I have anything against hybrids. Hybrids have their advantages and disadvantages, just as heirlooms have their advantages and disadvantages.

The definition of an heirloom seed or vegetable may have different meanings to different people. Basically, an heirloom is an old variety that has been passed down from seed to seed, year after year, usually through many generations. Heirlooms are ‘open pollinated’, meaning they are naturally pollinated by the wind or insects such as bees. Heirlooms also breed ‘true to type’, meaning they come back looking exactly like their parents. For example, a black heirloom tomato grown from the seed of it’s black heirloom tomato parent will look exactly like it’s parent. That is not necessarily the case with mass-produced, hybrid type tomatoes generally found at the supermarket. My favorite analogy is that a tomato grown from the seed of a hybrid tomato may come back looking like an aunt or an uncle instead of the parent!

Phytonutrients, such as Lycopene, are compounds found in vegetables such as tomatoes. Lycopene is thought to have health-protecting qualities. Scientists believe that Lycopene may help prevent cancer, including prostate cancer. Research suggests that the best way to obtain Lycopene is by eating foods that contain Lycopene instead of taking Lycopene as a dietary supplement. Heirloom tomatoes have large amounts of Lycopene. Tomatoes are delicious and nutritious when eaten raw. However, cooking tomatoes prior to consumption allows tomatoes to release even more Lycopene for the body to absorb. Heirloom tomatoes are not only an excellent source of Lycopene, but also an excellent source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. In fact, one medium-sized heirloom tomato contains about 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin A and about 40 percent of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin C. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of Vitamin C is 90 mg per day for men and 75 mg per day for women. The recommended dietary allowance for Vitamin A also varies upon age and gender, but is between 2,300 – 3,000 I.U. per day.

If you grow your tomatoes from seed, the seeds should be sowed about 1/4 inch deep when the soil is at least 70 degrees. Tomatoes should be spaced about two to three feet apart. Two feet is sufficient for compact, bush like tomatoes (These are ‘determinate tomatoes’). However, if your tomatoes are long and vine-like (These are ‘indeterminate tomatoes’), try to spread them about three feet apart. If you grow your tomatoes in a container, remember, bigger is better! I prefer to grow mine in three-fourth cut wine barrels. I found a recent article from HGTV which sums it up best: Compact or dwarf varieties can adapt to life in a twelve inch pot. Perhaps even a hanging basket. Bush-type (Determinate) tomatoes grow best in a ten gallon pots. Vine type tomatoes (Indeterminate) grow best in twenty gallon pots.

In closing, growing heirloom tomatoes from seed will benefit your health, your kitchen, as well as your wallet. Your health may benefit from the cancer preventing Lycopene. Your kitchen will benefit from the tasty meals you will be able to create (How about a home-made pasta sauce or shrimp creole base made from heirloom tomatoes? You will never want store bought tomato sauce again!) You will also save money by not having to spend all that extra money purchasing heirloom tomatoes from someone else.

The Nurse Farmer ™

 

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