What are Heirloom Seeds and Why Should You Buy Them?
An heirloom seed is a seed that has been passed down for many years (sometimes well over 100) through family and friends. The seed varieties are kept alive because the grower feels that the plant offers something valuable...better flavor, higher yield, unusual color, etc. The fruits of each season are carefully examined and sorted so that only the seeds from the best tomatoes are saved. This means that heirloom tomato varieties today are the ones that are the best tasting, highest producers, and/or the most beautiful...lucky us! All heirloom seeds are open-pollinated; that means that the seeds can be harvested, saved, and grown the next year to produce the same fruit.
Why buy heirloom seeds? Well, compared to their genetically modified (GMO) or hybrid counterparts, heirloom varieties tend to be much more flavorful and contain more nutrients. There's not a hybrid around who can beat the flavor of a perfectly ripe Brandywine or Black Krim heirloom! Some varieties may be a little more susceptible to disease, but with careful tending, this is usually not a problem
When selecting your heirloom varieties, take into account the length of your growing season. All of our heirloom varieties will grow in the continental United States. Some varieties need a longer season than others, however, and to get the best yield, you'll want to match up the shorter season/early varieties to areas where you have a shorter summer, and the heat resistant varieties to the very southern states. Otherwise, just pick the size and color you want to try...they are all delicious!!
Tomato Seed Starting Guide
1. Seeds can be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last anticipated frost in your growing area.
2. Obtain some seed starting mix at the local garden store (we like ProMix). The mix should contain peat moss to help retain water during seed germination as the seeds should be kept moist for proper germination.
3. If you are starting many varieties of tomatoes or other seedlings, you should have a separate starting container for each variety. Be sure you mark your containers with seed type. We use white plastic plant tags that can be written on with either permanent marker, or pencil.
4. In a old bowl, bucket, or other container, place some of starting mix and add water while mixing to moisten the mix.
5. Fill the trays with 1-1 1/2" of the moistened seed starting mix and distribute seeds over surface. Cover seeds with 1/4" of starting mix and gently firm the surface.
6. Check seed trays every 2-3 days to make sure they stay moist. We cover ours with a loose fitting piece of plastic wrap to help retain water. Seeds will usually take 10-14 days to germinate (depending upon variety). Once the seeds have sprouted, they will need a light source. We start our seedlings in our basement and use fluorescent grow lights which works very well. If you start the seeds on a window sill make sure you turn the seeds daily to keep them from bending toward the light. If starting under a grow light, make sure the grow light is within 6" of the seedlings or they will become tall and leggy. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light a day. An inexpensive timer works well to control grow light time. Seedlings should be kept within 6” of the grow lights. Seedlings must be kept moist in a well drained container. Too much water can lead to damping off of seedlings.
7. Once the seedlings are showing a second set of leaves, it is time to transplant them from the starting tray to individual pots. We have found that the best pots are plastic as they retain more water. The peat pots work well if you make sure to keep them moist...they work great for transplanting as you do not disturb the root structure of the seedlings. Gently loosen the soil in the starting tray and separate individual plants. Fill the transplant pot loosely with moistened starter mix and use a pencil to make a hole in the starting mix. Insert the seedling into the hole up to the second set of leaves...this may require the slight twisting or bunching up of the plant's root as they can get pretty long. Gently firm the soil around the seedling and moisten once you have finished transplanting.
8. If you start your seeds very early, you may need to transplant some of your biggest plants again as they will outgrow their pots. For our healthiest plants, we transplant them into 1/2 gallon milk containers that have been cut off about 6" from the bottom...these work Great!!!
9. When it looks like it is time to plant your seedlings outside, you will need to harden off the plants. This is simply getting them adjusted to the changing conditions outdoors. When you begin this, make sure the plants are kept in the shade for the first few days of hardening so they don't get sun-burned. Plants should be returned inside at night...this seems like a lot of work but it will yield stronger, healthier plants. Hardening off usually takes 7-10 days.
10. When planting your seedlings in the garden, make a shallow trench and lay the seedling in on its side. Bury the entire plant up to the first set of leaves as the stem is capable of producing roots. This will greatly improve your plants ability to obtain water and nutrients resulting in greater yields!!
11. Once the tomato plants are in your garden they should be watered daily for the first week. They should be supported as they grow with wooden stakes or metal cages. We use old nylons cut into strips to tie plants to supports through the season as they do not bruise the stalks. Many commercial plant ties are also available.