[Thanks to the magic of A.I. and the emerging field of Biophysics Agra Communications (B.A.C.), -wink- I was able to interview one of my Cherokee Purple tomato seeds, just before they were sown and then reborn.]
Farmer Mitch: Good morning seed, what should I call you?
Cherokee Purple: Good morning, Farmer and thank you for asking! My Latin name is Solanum lycpersicum, though I’m usually known as Cherokee Purple, but you can call me CP1!
FM: Thanks, can you tell me your origin story?
CP1: I am what is known as an Heirloom variety of tomato, which means my lineage must be more fifty years old, and my genes unaltered all during that time. My roots – haha – go back to the Cherokee Native Americans of Tennessee in the 1800s, and before that, my distant ancestors came from the Andes in South America. Did you know that flowering seeds have been dated back at least 365 million years?
FM: As Johnny Carson used to say, “I did not know that!”. What kind of amazing tomatoes do you produce?
CP1: First, you probably knew that tomatoes were fruits – but don’t tell the kiddos! CP is just perfect for BLTs, on top of pizzas or salads, or with a little Salt n’Peppa. Appearance-wise, we’re a deep kind of dusky-rose color but I do keep this lovely greenish-reddish hue in my fruit. My beefsteaks are pretty meaty … up to 12-ounces in size and my type can reach up to several feet high. People tell me I’m Attractive and Very High-Yielding – and I take that as a complement!
FM: Last year for me, your variety out-performed all my other beefsteaks and everybody loved you. I’m intrigued by your Heirloom status, why do we care?
CP1: Well, for one thing, I am not a hybrid – or GMO! – and we’re Open-Pollinated by insects, birds, bats, the wind, rain, or even by being touched by people. Speaking of which, your fellow humans have destroyed or bred-out more than 75% of genetic diversity in agriculture crops since the 1900s (according to a U.N. report) but my Heirloom seeds can be saved year over year, unlike Hybrid’s where it’s one-and-done. You’re helping the planet with our varieties. Oh, and did you know that we can reproduce ourselves perfectly from generation-to- generation with our best attributes. Imagine if every ancestor in your family was nearly identical to their great-grandparents, rather than the 50/50 proposition from homo-sapiens co-parents?
FM: Hmmm, you’re giving me a lot to think about… Why does it matter to me as a Farmer or our customers who are buying starts or produce?
CP1: Glad you asked! For growers and transplanters, my type exhibits consistent traits in every seed; such as disease and insect resistant, hardiness, shape, size and taste – you know what you get every time; and we’re just plain tasty right off the vine! Pretty cool right?
FM: Absolutely! Hey, many of us learned in grade school about such things as pollination and reproduction in plants and learning all these diagrams, but I don’t think I remember how pollination works. If you don’t mind talking about your, er, reproductive organs and how a teeny-tiny seed like you can become a giant tomato plant with dozens of delicious Purples, we’d love to know!
CP1: Check this out; we seeds are, and I have to quote here: “the undeveloped plant embryo and food reserve enclosed in a protective covering”.
FM: What? It sounds like making a baby?!
CP1: Duh … So in technical terms, seeds are the product of the ripened ovule after the embryo sac is fertilized by sperm from pollen forming a zygote. Pollination transfers pollen in flowers from the anther (male stamen, pollen producer) to the stigma (the female reproductive organ) where the pistil receives. Then the embryo within a seed develops from the zygote forming a seed coat around the ovule and grows within the Mother Plant to a certain size when she halts growth. Reproduction, (Spermatophytes) is when the ovary ripens into a fruit which contains the seed and serves to further disseminate it’s seeds. Inside our angiosperm ovary, we even have a developing heart!
FM: Wow! I’m blushing, but I think I need to study the diagrams and learn some more. Can I ask the best way to take care of you and give the highest chance of being born, through your early weeks of development and into full-growth and harvesting?
CP1: I’m a Determinate variety, while some of my other cousins are Indeterminate. What this simply means is that I grow more into a bush where they grow taller and viny. Our type does not need pruning and can be grown with or without supports, where the indeterminates need staking. One of our specialties is delivering our harvest in a concentrated period of time, so it’s recommended you plant us in succession plantings about four-to-six weeks apart.
FM: Got it … How long does it take you to germinate and to be harvested?
CP1: With the right conditions – you know I’m heat-loving – I should be born, I mean germinate in about 5-7 days, and if you take excellent care of me , I’ll deliver bountiful, beautiful tomatoes in about 70-75 days.
FM: Speaking of conditions, what kind of soil, light and food do you prefer?
CP1: We are full-sun addicts, and we like medium-rich soil, with a Ph between 6.0 – 6.8, (and from your TCD soil testing we know you are below 6.0), so you better get your lime and other conditioning like cover-crops going. We’re kind of picky in that we need to be fertilized regularly and accurately, and we don’t like too much Nitrogen as it causes us to grow too fast and delays our fruit. I’d recommend the WorldTomatoSociety.com site if you really want me to be my best self.
FM: Thanks, really helpful. What about leaf and sucker trimming; I hear different things?
CP1: As a determinate, we don’t want or need our leaves cut, they provide us with the photosynthesis and processing sunlight that we talked about. However, please remove any shoots or low hanging leaves that are touching the soil as it can transmit disease and rot; and please don’t water our leaves either, we hate that!
FM: Fantastic, I’m learning so much about growing. Last questions, what about harvesting, selling and storing?
CP1: When our fruit is fully ripe, go ahead and eat that day or sell at the Farmers Market the next day. You also have the option to pick near-ripe fruits 4-7 days in advance (most store-bought tomatoes take that long from the fields), but please store us at room temperature in the darkness (we’re not afraid!), and not in the frig.
FM: This has been so enlightening, thank you so much for your time. Are you ready to start your germination and development journey? You know how much I love seeing my ‘babies” grow up, mature and then make seeds of their own to sow – kind of like being a grandpa!
CP1: Thank you Farmer Mitch (and Michelle) – and all of the other growers who continue our heritage, diversity and deliciousness – and buyers – who help support local farmers. I’ll see you on the ‘other side’!
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after it’s kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth; and it was so.” – Genesis 1:12,13