Friday, January 14, 2011

Appreciating the Green Zebra

Tom Wagner aka Tater-Mater
EcoGastronomy was very fortunate to have been contacted by  plant breeder, Tom Wagner.  Tom has been breeding plants, mostly tomatoes and potatoes, for 54 years. He is the founder of Tater-Mater Seeds, and he's introduced some of the most beautiful tomato varieties that have ever been seen -Green Zebra, Schimmeig Stoo, Schimmeig Creg, Banana Legs.  Some of his beautiful potato varieties include  Kern Toro, Regis Summit, and Tom Boy.  Tom was kind enough to share the development of his most famous variety and this blog's namesake:  The Green Zebra.  Ta Da! 

 "The genesis of the Green Zebra goes back to when I first started crossing tomatoes in 1954.  I was raised in a large family that believed in keeping what is now called Heirloom tomatoes.  We had one that my great grandmother brought over from Graben Neudorf, Germany when she immigrated to this country in 1888.  But at that time we all believed that varieties run out, run their course, and new blood was needed.  Crossing Sioux with the German tomato (that is what we called it) was not a bad cross, so I kept going and going.

I had Evergreen from Gleckler’s in the 1950’s and it cracked so badly that I could hardly get a fruit into the kitchen without it splitting wide open in my hands.  To the rescue I got some tomatoes from a greenhouse grower that went on and on about how this variety he had did not crack.  I crossed it with Evergreen and got a hybrid tomato that was boring…a red tomato that cracked!  It was only by selfing (saving the seed) that I was able to find a stable selection that was not only green again, but did not crack.  Hurray!
Step two: I had traveled to Ames, Iowa to visit the tomato collections at the government station.  After a long visit, I walked through hundreds of varieties of tomatoes out in the field being grown for seed increase and found a vine that had green stripes on the un-ripe fruits.  The ripes fruits were red with light yellow stripes.  I picked one tomato and grew out the plants the next year and got some tomatoes with some stripes –not many---but it too, cracked.  I then crossed this striped tomato with a variety from Burgess Seed company that did not crack.  The hybrid was a tomato without stripes and it cracked as well.  You know the story by now; after several years of selfing I was able to find one plant that had no cracked fruit and still had some stripes.

Third event was when I crossed my improved Evergreen tomato with no cracking with a striped tomato with no cracking and …presto!  ..An ordinary red tomato that did not crack.  It took several more years of selfing before I found a prototype of my Green Zebra; green flesh and green stripes with no cracking.  When I increased the seed during summer and winter grow-outs in the greenhouse, I was seeking more tang in the flavor and that stayed with the eventual release of Green Zebra in my initial catalog in 1983 called Tater Mater Seeds.  The rest is history."

If you wish Tom can put you on his newsletter and catalog list. and
Thanks, Tom!

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