The Dwarf Tomato Project
We have not been trying to keep them a secret. In fact, for the past five years we have been a conduit for introducing gardeners all over the world to new varieties of compact tomatoes. With their popularity increasing, everywhere you look in the tomato gardening world, there is buzz about the tomato varieties developed and released by the Dwarf Tomato Project.
As a seedsman, I try to understand and anticipate the interests and needs of the folks who choose to garden with our seeds. One trend that has become obvious to me is that modern gardeners have less time and less space in which to garden.
Thankfully, I am not the only one to take notice. In 2005, author and heirloom tomato collector Craig Le-Houllier of North Carolina met a gardener and tomato enthusiast named Patrina Nuske Small of Australia. They understood that gardeners in urban and suburban locales were often limited to gardening in containers, which generally prevented them from enjoying good, fresh, heirloom tomatoes.
This conversation led to the creation of the collaborative effort, managed by Craig in the Northern Hemisphere, and Patrina in the Southern, simply known as “The Dwarf Tomato Project.”
Using email and an online gardening forum launched specifically to share tomato information, Craig and Patrina recruited and assembled a team of international gardeners – more than 300 individuals – with the single purpose of breeding and stabilizing new compact, dwarf tomato varieties. These produced fruit in every shape, type, size, color, and with complex flavor profiles rivaling the best standard, indeterminate heirloom varieties; all on compact plants that range from three to five feet tall and can be grown in large pots.
If heirlooms are defined as being created and handed down for generations through a family group, this global “family” of amateur breeders has created heirloom quality tomato varieties that gardeners can grow in large pots. This has opened up tomato gardening to folks whose “gardens” happen to be rooftops, patios, balconies, and even fire escapes.
Ten years after the project began, gardeners interested in container growing tomatoes can now choose from sixty different fruit types. With interesting names like ‘Bundaberg Rumball’ and ‘Dwarf Wild Fred’, there are red, pink, purple, yellow, orange, green, brown, white, bi-colored, and even striped varieties. Some of them produce small, one ounce fruits; others produce large tomatoes weighing over a pound. Choices for shape, texture and flavor are equally as diverse.
I am excited to be a part of this unique experiment in collaborative breeding, involving hundreds of “citizen scientists,” to use Craig’s phrase, and to be able to offer a whole new group of gardeners choices that they have never had when planning their annual gardens.
Mike Dunton is the founder of the Victory Seed Company and one of four small seed suppliers chosen by the project to introduce their creations to the gardening public. The Victory Seed Company works to preserve rare, threatened, heirloom seed varieties and to keep them available to home gardeners. You can find more information about this interesting project, as well as seeds for all 60 dwarf varieties, online at: www.VictorySeeds.com/dwarf-tomato-project.html