Wild Boar Farms: A Tomato Breeding Legend

In heirloom circles, the names Brad Gates and Wild Boar Farms have become synonymous for tomato breeding—it is nothing short of legendary.

  • Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • Brad's favorite tomato 'Pink Berkeley Tie Dye" has won numerous competitions, including an award at the Heirloom Expo in Petaluma, California.
    Courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com
  • Brad's Indigo series has been very well received, and 'Blue Beauty' and 'Indigo Apple' (pictured) are next in popularity after 'Pink Berkeley Tie Dye.'
    Courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com

Brad Gates and Wild Boar Farms—in heirloom circles, the names have become synonymous with vibrant, even bizarre coloration and superlative tastes in tomatoes. Brad’s breeding work is nothing short of legendary.

But every legend has an origin. In this case, it began some 20 years ago. Brad told me recently how he got his start: “Originally I decided to work a couple of farmers' markets for a friend.” Heirloom tomatoes had only recently begun to be rediscovered and were just beginning to gain recognition. Brad was fascinated by the colors and tastes. He was also impressed by the prices quality heirloom tomatoes were fetching at market. Brad, who had previously worked in other jobs in the horticultural field, was intrigued, so he began growing them at various locations in and around Napa, California.

A sense of intrigue soon bloomed into full-blown obsession. Within a few seasons he had trialed over 200 tomato cultivars! That was when he “started saving my own seeds.” Brad noticed that, among all the tomatoes he was growing, there was occasionally what he calls “a gift of nature:” a clearly superior plant. Whether it was earlier, better-tasting, larger, smaller, differently colored from its more run-of-the-mill siblings, Brad would pick “the best of the best” and save the seeds. “I kept it up because there were just so many neat cultivars,” he said, and you can clearly hear the excitement in his voice.

Years later, he has dozens and dozens of stunningly different cultivars to his credit. Sizes run the gamut from cherries to huge slicers. And the colors! Brad's creations come in every possible tomato hue, often with two or three of them on a single fruit. “A lot of them have been lucky finds which I attribute to growing tens of thousands of plants and actually being the one going up and down the rows . . . to notice them . . . With a lot of plants to choose from you can get some pretty bizarre looking tomatoes; the key is selecting for flavor to go along with that unique look.” he said. Only a very few of his trial tomatoes are selected for planting the following year. “I like to grow about a hundred plants or more, then I'll select seeds from just a couple each season. “It's like a . . . Christmas present that takes a year to open,” he adds, referring to the colors, shapes and flavors.

OK, but what's up with the pig imagery? Brad explains with a chuckle that, years ago, he had no farm name. So he decided to name it after his favorite animal. As to “farms,” Brad, who seems like a no-nonsense, down-to-earth guy, explains that he was growing his tomatoes here and there, on various parcels of ground, so it really was a matter of multiple farms. So the name reflects that fact as well.

I asked Brad what the all-time favorite Wild Boar Farms cultivar would be. Without hesitation, he told me it is 'Pink Berkeley Tie Dye.' He indicates that the cultivar is his top seller, both in live-plant and in seed sales. As reasons, he cites its generous production, earliness, beautiful appearance and, above all, it’s great taste. The flavor has won numerous competitions, including an award at the Heirloom Expo in Petaluma California.



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