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The Dwarf Tomato Project

Provides an opportunity for space-challenged gardeners: those who plant in containers, on patios or balconies, roof-tops, in sun rooms or greenhouses or those who plant in smaller outside garden spaces, to enjoy the different colors and flavors of larger fruited varieties that were previously only available by growing in tall, indeterminate heirlooms.

These varieties were all made possible and available to you by the "Dwarf Tomato Project" - truly the first open-source breeding project, composed of all volunteer, amateur, hobby gardeners led by Craig LeHoullier and Patrina Nuske-Small.

The Benefits of Dwarf tomatoes
  • Plants are sturdy, attractive and productive!
  • Plants vary in height from 2 to 4.5 feet, requiring less caging or trellising.
  • Dark and dense (rugose) foliage, thick central stem.
  • Tomatoes of all sizes and shapes, including some large fruits up to 18 ounces.
  • Easy to grow in pots, on balconies. Wherever space is limited.

TomatoFest now introduces our release of 24 prized, Dwarf tomato varieties sourced from the Dwarf Tomato Project that we have personally grown and harvested for seeds, with plant and fruit descriptions and photos taken by us.
Click here to SHOP Dwarf Tomatoes from The Dwarf Tomato Project.


What is the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project?
"In 2005, Craig LeHoullier of Raleigh, NC, long time heirloom tomato enthusiast, discussed an idea with Patrina Nuske Small of Australia on the popular garden site Garden Web. Craig and his wife, Susan, have been selling tomato seedlings at the local farmer's market for years, and a frequent request was for delicious, unusual tomato varieties that would do well when grown on decks or patios, in reasonably sized containers. Though his customers loved the big fruited, differently colored heirlooms, the tall vines proved to be quite a challenge for many.

Craig, through his seed collecting, was aware of a very few so-called dwarf growing varieties, distinct from the determinate types (which were also relatively compact) in that the flavor seemed in general to be better in the dwarfs. These dwarf types are very distinctive in having a thick central stem, stout compact growth, and dark green, crinkly looking (so-called rugose) foliage.

Craig and Patrina described a project in which some strategic crosses would be made, the resulting new hybrids grown out, then seeds shared for work on selection of promising new varieties, followed by several generations to reach a stable new non-hybrid variety with the desired characteristics.

So, armed with more than 100 willing volunteers, the project set off with the first crosses being grown out in 2006. As of this time, over 70 interesting crosses have been made by Patrina and others, resulting in dozens and dozens of possible color, size and shape combinations. Craig and Patrina are quite sure that this is the very first all volunteer world-wide tomato breeding project in documented gardening history. None involved are botanists or horticulturists - just avid gardeners with a keen interest in learning about tomato genetics or discovering interesting new tomatoes.

None of those involved with the project receive any payment for the development of these new varieties - it is just the fulfillment of a passion to create what will hopefully end up being considered heirloom tomato varieties many years from now - a donation to the tomato gene pool, and to those space-challenged gardeners the world over. "

About Dwarf Tomatoes
"The vast majority of tomato varieties are Indeterminate in growth habit. Think Cherokee Purple or Better Boy or Sungold to get a picture of how indeterminate varieties behave. They are the varieties that need staking, caging, or plenty of room to sprawl. If diseases don't get to them first, indeterminate varieties grow and bear fruit from planting until they are killed by frost. Though most of the true treasures of the tomato world are indeterminate in growth habit, including most heirloom types, they are a challenge to grow in terms of dealing with the rampant growth of the vines.

Determinate varieties are familiar to tomato growers who have tried Roma, Sophie's Choice or Taxi. The foliage is indistinguishable from indeterminate types, but the plants (which should never be pruned) reach a particular height and spread, bear loads of fruit (which tend to ripen in a concentrated time period), then die off. With a very high fruit to foliage ratio, determinates, while incredibly productive, for the most part lack the intense, complex flavors of indeterminate varieties. In addition, the choice of colors, sizes and shapes is quite limited when compared with the indeterminate selections.

Dwarf varieties, prior to this project, are relatively rare, unknown and undeveloped as a group. Appearing quite distinct in all growth phases - from seeding to mature plant - they behave as if they are very compact indeterminate varieties in the manner that they fruit, persevere until frost, and exhibit flavors that in many cases can approach the best of the indeterminate varieties, due to similar foliage to fruit ratios. There is some variation in height throughout the new dwarf varieties - some appearing to be more "determinate" than others. As young seedlings they are half the size of indeterminate or determinate seedlings right from the start. The central growing stem is particularly stout, and the foliage, which can be either regular or potato leaf, tends to be a darker bluish green and have a puckered, wrinkled characteristic that is known as "rugose". Though the yields of dwarfs will never approach that of indeterminate varieties, the ability to plant them much more closely or grow in as little as 5-gallon pots are adequate compensation. What we are producing in this project is a color, size and shape range that will allow those who are space constrained to experience the nature of many of the well-known heirloom types, but in a growth habit that is much easier to manage. We are excited about what we are creating, and are anxious, as well as finally ready, to share the very best of these with gardeners. We invite feedback - there is always a chance that you will not get exactly what is described or expected, and all of these, while quite stable, are still in a way works in progress. We hope to have created a set of non-hybrid varieties that will make gardening interesting for you, as well as provide what will be considered valuable heirloom varieties at some point in the distant future!"

About the Open Source Initiative
Most of the world's seeds are now owned by corporations. The unfortunate danger is that seeds are disappearing as major chemical companies buy out seed companies and then promote their own genetically modified seeds with their accompanying chemicals. The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) seeks to protect a wide range of newly bred varieties from being targeted by these companies, and does it by applying Open Source designations to varieties that have been pledged by their breeders. These seeds are publically listed at the OSSI site so there can be no confusion as to their status - they are pledged to be free from any restrictions, cannot be patented, can be used for further breeding and selection by anyone who wishes to do so. They are protected with the OSSI pledge (see below).

In an effort to keep all of the varieties listed above available to home gardeners, they have been released by "The Dwarf Tomato Project" (the breeder) to the public under the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI). You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, if you save seeds or use these varieties to breed a new variety, you pledge not to restrict others' use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives."

TomatoFest only offers seeds that are not only rare, open-pollinated, and primarily heritage or heirloom varieties, but ones that our customers are encouraged to propagate from which to save seeds. We do not offer patented, licensed varieties.

We are a mission-driven company. Public domain seeds are at the core of our values. Sadly, we live in a world where corporations and governments work to control seeds. The Open Source Seed Initiative was founded in 2012 to protect the ability to share seeds.

The OSSI Pledge - http://osseeds.org - "You have the freedom to use these OSSI-Pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge not to restrict others' use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this Pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives."

Click here to SHOP Tomatoes from The Dwarf Tomato Project.