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I’ve talked about all the reasons we are growing an heirloom garden before. I have a lot of favorite plants (like ALL of them!) but some are my favorite-favorite. Heirloom tomatoes happen to be one of those.
Homegrown tomatoes of any sort beat store bought hands down. If you want to ramp up the flavor, texture, and appearance, heirloom tomatoes are the way to go. Add that to the sustainability of seed saving factor and they are nothing but a huge win in my eyes.
Growing Beautiful Heirloom Tomatoes
What are heirloom tomatoes?
So, what are heirloom tomatoes anyways? An heirloom tomato (or any heirloom vegetable) is a variety that has been around for a very long time and has been preserved. It is not a hybrid or cross of any sort. They are also referred to as open pollinated, meaning they self pollinate or are pollinated by another plant of the same variety.
Why grow heirloom tomatoes?
I have a lot of reasons why I grow heirloom tomatoes. The first reason is for seed saving, heirloom tomatoes enable me to save seeds from each year so that I can continue growing them indefinitely. That’s like ultimate sustainability right there.
The flavor just can’t be beat. Each variety has it’s own unique tomato-esque flavor. The taste is so vibrant it just comes alive when you bite into it. I can eat an heirloom tomato as a meal and the kids all love them too.
They are the prettiest tomatoes around! My personal favorite of heirloom tomatoes is the Cherokee Purple. Not only does it taste great but it is a beautiful tomato. You can get many colors in heirloom tomatoes from black, purple, green, yellow, orange, pink, to red. You can even get tomatoes that are sort of rainbow colors. Heirloom tomatoes are down right gorgeous. (and sometimes HUGE)
How to grow heirloom tomatoes
Growing heirloom tomatoes is really not difficult. It’s not even much different than non heirloom tomatoes. When I started to grow heirloom tomatoes, I was intimidated because I had read a lot of misinformation on the difficulty of growing them.
Step 1. We start our seeds indoors in organic starting mix and keep them under a fluorescent light while they sprout and begin growing true leaves. We also water them often, making sure they have plenty of drainage. We keep the soil very damp but not sopping wet. We have used starting trays, plastic cups (not very sustainable), and peat pots for seed starting. We prefer the peat pots because we can plant them straight into the ground or easily peel them off without damaging the root systems.
Step 2. Once the seedlings are large enough and the outdoor temperatures permit, we begin moving them outside for the sunlight hours and bring them back inside at night. After several days, we begin leaving them outside where they can get plenty of sunshine.
Step 3. When the the seedling grow to about 6-10 inches tall, they can be transplanted into the ground. We like to plant them deeply, almost to the bottom leaves. This enables them to establish a healthy root system for a sturdy productive plant.
Step 4. We also mulch around our tomatoes to help prevent diseases. Keeping heirloom tomatoes well watered is a must. Watering deeply and slowly while keeping the leaves dried is the best practice for them.
Step 5. Pruning and suckering them as you go is also a must, heirloom tomatoes can get quite bushy and wild if left to just grow. You’ll have a much more manageable plant and a better harvest by doing so. The plant will put its energy into producing fruits instead of bushy branches everywhere.
Step 6. They also grow very tall, some exceed 6 feet so staking and supporting them as they grow is very important. we’ve used everything from tomato cages, sticks, branches, scrap lumber, to rebar to stake our heirloom tomatoes.
Step 7. Once the plants begin to set fruit, we watch for them to start ripening. We typically let them ripen most of the way on the vine but pick them just before they are completely ripe. Heirloom tomatoes tend to start splitting once they get all the way ripe so picking them a touch early helps prevent splitting. We set them out on a rail or in a window in the sun to finish ripening.
Step 8. As for spacing to keep from cross pollination, tomatoes need different amounts for different varieties. Some need 10 feet while others need up to 25 feet. We are planting a couple of each variety we want to save seeds from in 5 gallon buckets. This will enable us to separate them as needed when they begin to bloom. The rest will go in the garden with some spacing but if they do cross, it will not inhibit our seed saving.
Where to purchase heirloom seeds:
Personally, we like to support family owned businesses and choose Seeds for Generations for most of our heirloom seeds. They are a wonderful family to work with and support. If you’d like to check out there variety of heirloom tomatoes, click the banner below.
We have had (mostly) successful tries at growing heirloom tomatoes and will continue to grow them. We like to try at least one new variety each year while growing several of our favorites as well. We grow both slicing and saucing varieties.
I hope you’ll give heirloom tomatoes a try in your garden. You can always grow both heirloom and hybrid if you aren’t sure about them yet. Let me know what your favorite variety is, I might need to try growing them.
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