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Something new for your garden: Blue tomatoes

Want to grow blue tomatoes in your garden? Several new blue tomatoes should hit the market in the next year or two.

By Doreen Howard / October 28, 2010

Tom Wagner crossed heirloom tomatoes with wild tomatoes that contain blue pigment to create these.

Courtesy of Tom Wagner

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Tomato-breeding whiz, Tom Wagner of Tater’Mater has a new treat for us. Blue tomatoes!

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He’s stabilized several cultivars, including Pansy Ap, a 2-1/2-inch blue salad tomato [see Photo 2 above]. and a blue cherry, Helsing Junction Blue [see Photo 3 above].

Currently, he is in the process of increasing seed stock and forging marketing partnerships, so we will be getting blue tomatoes in catalogs and nurseries in a few years.

However, you can contact Wagner via his website if you want to purchase seeds with which to experiment. He'll want to know your results and add the information to his database.

From the breeder of Green Zebra

If you don’t recognize Tom Wagner’s name, you know his tomato creations. Green Zebra, an amber and green striped and Schimmeig Stoo (also called Striped Cavern), a ruffled, hollow red and gold striped beauty are two offered in nearly every seed catalog. So are Banana Legs and Green Grape, others he bred.

He takes heirlooms and crosses them to create new ones. Technically, these open-pollinated tomatoes are not heirlooms, but experts in the field recognize the offspring as heirlooms.

There are other blue tomatoes in the pipeline, too. Oregon State University (OSU) created a blue, P20, that contains high levels of anthocyanin, which gives the tomato its blue color. The compound is what gives blueberries, for instance, their abundant cancer-fighting properties.

OSU researchers used conventional breeding, crossing domestic tomatoes with wild ones that had blue coloring. They found that the more light that hits plants and their developing fruits, the higher the anthocyanin content in a ripe tomato.

Blue tomatoes have also been developed using gene splicing techniques, inserting genes from snapdragons and blueberries.

Bred the old-fashioned way, not genetically modified

Don’t worry about Wagner’s blue tomatoes, though. They’re bred the old-fashioned way, using multiple controlled crosses to create an open-pollinated, clean seed that reproduces true to type.

He has a host of other blues in the pipeline for release, so his new tomatoes won’t be an oddity. We'll be seeing plenty of blue tomatoes in years to come.

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Read about more tomatoes and their unusual origins in Doreen Howard's new book, "Heirloom Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits: Savoring the Rich Flavor of the Past," to be published in March. Doreen, the Edible Explorer, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. If it’s edible and unusual, she figures out a way to grow it in her USDA Zone 4b garden. She’ll try anything once, even smelly durian. A former garden editor at Woman’s Day, she writes regularly for The American Gardener and The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s Garden Guide. To read more by Doreen, click here.

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