Why Heirloom Tomatoes?

Heirloom varieties are all the rage, but are they really better?

Last week’s post discussed how the differences between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants. But what if you aren’t planting your own? How do you decide which type to choose? 

We prefer heirloom varieties.

First what is an heirloom tomato?

You may also see these referred to as “heritage” or “old time” tomatoes. These are the types that have been around for a very long time, as far back as the Aztecs and Incas. These are the varieties your grandparents would know and raise in their garden. Seeds from heirlooms can be saved to plant the next season and will produce tomatoes consistent with the variety. Non-heirloom or hybrid tomatoes will not produce from saved seeds.

Heirloom tomatoes are typically not those perfect globes found in mass market stores. They also have a shorter shelf life. 


When we started the farm and began growing tomatoes, we conducted a taste test. We included a hybrid beefsteak tomato because of all the hype around those big red slicing tomato types like Better Boy. We lined up a slice from each with the variety name hidden and tasted. We quickly found our favorites. While the Better Boy had tomato flavor, it paled in comparison to the others. Our favorites were the German, which is a yellow tomato with a red stripes and Brandywine. These were bursting with full tomato flavor. We haven’t grown a hybrid since.

Your best bet to ensure a fresh, delicious, full-flavored tomato is to either grow your own or buy at a local farmer’s market. 

Five Feline Farm will be at the 18th Street Farmer’s Market all summer with tomatoes in season as well as other fresh produce. Stop by and see us. 

Five Feline Farm Foodies

We are foodies.

Our farm is all about food. Growing food, planning for food, selling food at the Farmer’s Market or our own Mercantile, preserving food, and yes, of course eating food.

During these dark, cold Winter days we continually look for ways to improve our food production. We plan for the growing season and the basement holds hundreds of tiny plants waiting for warmer weather. Tomatoes, peppers, asparagus, rosemary, basil, onions and even flowers for our pollinator friends are beginning their lives in the grow stations.

Our current food supply is sourced as much as possible from the freezer and pantry. Rows of gleaming jars full of home canned sauces, salsas, pickled peppers and broths line the pantry while baggies and containers of frozen fruits and sauces pack the freezer. All of these inspire a multitude of meals.

Once Spring and Summer finally arrive, we will have access to fresh vegetables mere steps from the front door. A short stroll out the back door lies the primary herb garden ready to add an abundance of flavor to any dish. Many of these fresh herbs and vegetables will make it to the Farmer’s Market this summer.

It’s a foodie’s paradise.

Longing for Summer

We escaped the clutches of the January 2019 Polar Vortex and were blessed within days to experience over 50º weather. No, we didn’t fly to a southern state, it all happened right here in the Midwest. Those couple of days of sunshine and warmth had me longing for fresh food. Perhaps something from the garden: freshly pulled carrots or a warm ripe tomato. Or maybe a few fresh morels gathered from just beyond the edge of the yard.

But it is still February in Central Illinois. Gathering any of those things fresh fom the earth is still a few months away. We do what we can in the meantime. There is a container of fresh alfalfa sprouts growing on the counter, ready to add to a sandwich or salad. That crisp, fresh crunch is a welcome blast of nutrients.

A basement grow station is providing fresh basil, rosemary and cilantro in addition to the starts of tomatoes, peppers and onions that will populate the garden in a few short months. On days when it warms up just enough, say to 30º or so, it’s ok to open the cold frame and pick a salad of baby lettuces and spinach.

The next best thing is to forage in the freezer or pantry for preserved items. The freezer is full of tomato sauce, carrots, peppers, onions, garlic bulbils, strawberries and peaches. We even have some Elderberries waiting to be processed into syrup. The pantry holds rows of home canned tomato juice, pickles, jellies, jams, pie fillings, hot pepper sauce, relishes and our special Bloody Mary Mix.

So until the sun warms the soil enough to garden, we will feast on these things and dream of summer to come.

What summer food do you miss most?

Our Manifesto-Natural, Simple and Reclaimed

Here at the Farm we are about three things: natural, simple, and reclaimed. These tenets are the overarching guide for all our Farm endeavors. Most of these manifest in food. Growing, preserving, buying, selling, cooking, and of course eating food. But it’s also a lifestyle.

First an explanation of the name. Five Feline Farm is not a cat rescue. The name is an homage to the five charter cats who moved with us to the five and a half acres we call home. It is also a glimpse of our sense of humor. Who names a market farm Five Feline Farm only to explain ourselves over and over? Wait until you find out what we name our products.

I digress. 

Back to our focus on food.

Natural and Simple

Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes

So much of our food supply is heavily processed, loaded with ingredients that sound more like a chemistry lesson than a food label. I can only conjecture that the rise of these artificial ingredients is correlated to the rise of disease and lack of well-being in our society.

We strive to use whole ingredients wherever possible. Not only whole but a direct connection to the source. Our vegetables come from our farm or local (within 100 miles) sources. Sometimes this is difficult and exceptions must be made. We can’t grow coffee in Central Illinois but we certainly drink it.

In addition to the gardens, we are beekeepers. Our honeybee colonies provide enough honey for our own use, some to sell and wax for value added products. The more we learn about the benefits of honey, the bigger a proponent we become. Honey is an all natural, non-spoiling food that can also promote healing.

Sweet Honey
Bees At Work

You may call it recycling or repurposing. Whatever the nomenclature, it is a way of life. Even the farm we live on is reclaimed land. The property had been left to it’s own devices. Covered in wild  grape vines and multiflora rose. Smattered with old appliances, rusty fencing and dilapidated buildings. Think ancient outhouse, rodent infested outbuilding, termite and dry rot compromised barn.

In the midst of these horrors we found treasures.

Wild blackberry and raspberry brambles for food. A vacated basement transformed to a goldfish pond. Garden art from a rusty iron drill press. Barn wood graces the fireplace mantel in the house, logs form garden bed edging.

Acres of open land perfect for a house, gardens, orchard and apiary. Orchard Sign

Reclaiming happens in the kitchen too. No, we don’t forage in dumpsters, but we do make every effort not to waste. Leftovers are creatively combined into new dishes and branded “New Leavin’s”. If something can’t be used, into the compost piles it goes. Enriching the soil for next year’s crop.

As we reclaim the land, we reclaim ourselves.

There are outlets to try new things and expand our abilities. We often learn by trial and error. Like the hoop house dismantled by prairie winds rivaling a nor’easter.

Follow along as we share what we learn. You may decide to implement a few things for yourself.