Heirloom tomatoes represent a very special type of tomato plant.
(Pictured above is the Organic Heirloom Beefsteak Tomato called Mortgage Lifter)
Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation, usually back to a time before WWII. While hybrids provide uniformity of shape and size, as well as some other useful qualities like larger yields, none can beat the heirlooms for flavor.
And because they’re open-pollinated, heirloom
tomato seeds can be saved from the fruit and used in
next years’ planting for fairly consistent results.
Be sure to plant your tomato seeds when the weather starts to warm up when direct sowing. Cold weather will kill the seedlings.
Make sure that the soil
isn’t muddy or
overly wet. Moist is okay. A good rule of thumb is if the soil is wet like flour it is too wet. If it is dry like sale it is too dry. But if it is moist like brown sugar--then it is just right.
If you live in an area with especially hard
soil, use a tiller or shovel to break up and turn the soil. Purchasing
topsoil from your local store and mixing it into the existing soil can
help provide a good starting point for your
tomato plants. Some soil maybe too hard so you will have to get some heavy duty soil breaking equipment or use raised beds (this is what I do).
Plant the seeds one foot apart, with at least four feet between rows. Heirloom tomatoes grow into big plants and the space provides for better air circulation, which will help prevent disease. Cover the ground around the tomato plants with either tradition mulch or landscape fabric. This helps retain moisture, retard weeds and keep the soil warm.
Be careful not to over-water. Heirloom tomatoes have a thin skin, which makes them more prone to splitting. When you over water tomatoes, the extra water ends up in the fruit, diluting the flavor.
For the most flavorful tomatoes, consider dry farming. You also want to avoid getting the leaves wet, as this increases the chance of disease. Using a soaker hose is a great way to avoid both over-watering and getting the leaves wet.
Heirloom tomatoes can grow up to six feet tall and they get pretty heavy, so it’s important to have a strong support system. Use a strong trellis or tall tomato cage to support the plants.
(Above is our Organic Heirloom Tomato Rainbow Pack ((ten types over 500 seeds)
Heirlooms can be less resistant to disease than hybrid options, grafting a young heirloom tomato plant onto a disease-resistant rootstock is recommended to prevent certain types of disease as well as increase the yield by 30-50%. Rootshield also provides protection against disease.
Another way to increase yield and reduce disease is prune. Removing the suckers, or small shoots that grow out of the tomato joint, can improve air flow, which prevents disease and increases the yield per plant.
Periodically apply organic vegetable plant food to your tomato plants to keep them happy. (Follow the directions on the plant food for exact timing.)
Heirloom tomato plant growing times can vary, but the tomatoes should be ready to eat in about 75-80 days from planting. Try the tomatoes with fresh basil, mozzarella, balsamic vinegar and salt for a delicious caprese salad.
Other pages on Tomatoes:
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