Open Pollinated Tomatoes: What And How To Grow Them


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You may be wondering what is meant by an open pollinated tomato. 

Open pollinated plants are ones of natural selection, they have been pollinated naturally and will keep producing good seeds from generation to generation. 

I’m going to take an in-depth look into the world of tomato cultivation to demonstrate why you may be better off growing open pollinated tomatoes than hybrids.   

What are Open Pollinated Tomatoes

Open pollinated tomatoes are varieties that have been pollinated naturally as opposed to artificially cross-pollinated. Natural pollination is achieved by bees, other insects, wind, or the gardener. 

Tomatoes are self pollinating, which means both the pollen and the stigma are in the same flower.  This reduces the chance of natural cross-pollination, so you are usually able to grow different varieties of tomatoes in a relatively small area.

Open pollination also gives you the ability to save seeds that are true to type. That means all future generations will be similar to the parent tomato plants.

Open Pollinated Tomato Varieties

There is a wealth of open pollinated varieties of tomatoes on the market.  Far too many to list here, including many heirloom varieties.  

Every type of tomato (cherry, beef, salad, potato leaf etc.) has more than one open pollinated variety available. Different tomato varieties are readily available at on-line stores such as Gurneys.com and harrisseeds.com.

You can also find a number of open pollinated seeds for a number of tomato varieties on Amazon:

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The benefits of growing open pollinated tomatoes is that when you find one that does well, you won’t need to buy tomato seeds again.

Maybe you have a gorgeous color variety you want to grow again and again. Or those tasty cherry tomatoes to add to your favorite salads. You can also grow fresh tomatoes with a high disease resistance. 

Once you learn how to save seeds, you’ll be able to save money on buying seeds. Saving seed from tomatoes is so simple and properly dried and stored seeds can last for up to 8 years.

Open-Pollinated vs Hybrid vs Heirloom Tomatoes

Open pollinated and heirloom tomatoes are exactly the same type of tomatoes, except heirloom describes varieties that have been around for more than 50 years.

Hybrid tomatoes are from plants that have been selected for the desirable features and then artificially pollinated in isolation to enhance these features and create a “pure line” which produces the characteristics with a high level of uniformity. 

Hybrid strains are the result of the artificial cross pollination of two different varieties of “pure lines”.  These “pure lines” can take years to create, and can even be made up of previous artificial cross pollinations. 

The truth is that many of the tomatoes we grow, and the ones we eat, are actually F1 hybrids. An F1 hybrid tomato has been selectively bred by cross pollinating two different plant parents in a plant breeding program. 

Due to the nature of hybrids, the tomato seeds will not produce plants that are the same as the parent. It is possible to still get generations of tasty tomatoes, but it is more of a gamble as you can’t be sure what the end result will be when you plant the seed.      

How to Grow Open Pollinated Tomatoes?

Tomatoes are originally from South America, and do well in a Mediterranean climate. They like a long growing season and plenty of warm days out in the garden. If you live in a more temperate climate, you can extend the growing season by starting your seeds inside or by using a greenhouse. 

They need to be fed when they start producing fruit, and they like a well draining compost mix to start with. 

Unless your variety is a bush plant, make sure you pinch out young side shoots to stop the plants becoming unruly. 

If you are growing tomatoes in a greenhouse, try and keep the door open as much as possible as the plants will benefit from a slight breeze and may wilt if it gets too hot.

Keep an eye on them on overly hot days as the glass magnifies the suns heat. You may need to give them some shade if the sun’s glare is too much. 

Depending on the variety, your tomatoes may need support, so create a trellis or tie your plants to support stakes.

When your tomatoes start to fruit, keep the fruits in the sun to encourage them to ripen and make sure you supply the plants with enough water and food.  

A great natural (and free) food for tomatoes is a comfrey feed. Comfrey has deep roots and the leaves are full of nutrients such as B12, ideal for fruiting tomatoes. 

Simply put comfrey leaves submerged in water in a bucket, but make sure you have a lid for the bucket though as this concoction gets pretty smelly!

Leave for a week or two, and then add a couple of cupfuls to your watering can once a week when you water your tomatoes. You can add some nettle leaves too to create a wonderful balanced feed for most of your plants. 

Open Pollinated Tomato Seeds

If you would like to start growing open pollinated tomatoes to save seeds, then the most important part is seed storage. Seeds do not like temperature changes or damp, so don’t keep your seed in a garage or shed as they will not last. 

A noteworthy point about tomato seeds is that they are coated with a protective layer and need to be soaked and dried before being stored. 

Put your tomato seeds in a cup of water, cover with cling wrap and leave to allow a mouldy substance to grow on the top of the water.  Remove this periodically. It can be a bit stinky, but it’s worth it for all those free tomatoes!  

When the seeds sink to the bottom, pour them onto a plate, and drain off the excess water. Then leave them to dry. 

Once completely dry, store the fuzzy little seeds in a cool, dry place until next spring when you can start the process of planting, growing, eating, and storing all over again.  

Final Thoughts on Open Pollinated Tomatoes

I have grown open pollinated tomatoes for 9 years now in my garden. I originally brought 3 varieties of tomatoes and grew them in a small greenhouse.

Over the years, the seeds have got mixed up and I’m not sure if the tomatoes that I’m growing today are one of the varieties I originally brought, or my own natural hybrid!

One thing I’m sure of is that every year I always get a lot of great tasting tomatoes in my garden. These juicy tomatoes are ones that I keep growing for years to come. 

There is something inherently satisfying in growing a beautiful tomato and knowing that the seeds inside are destined to grown more beautiful tomatoes next year. 

Also check out the article on Open Pollinated Corn.