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Growing Heirloom Tomatoes

Jan 27, 2008
Heirloom tomatoes - also known as heritage tomatoes - are some of the many older varieties from which seeds have been saved over the years and passed from one generation to the next. Most tomatoes purchased today in supermarkets or grocery stores are hybrids which have been bred to produce higher yields, uniformity of shape and color, shipping durability and longer shelf life, rather than flavor.

Heirloom tomatoes are prized firstly for their amazing flavor. In addition to their outstanding flavor they frequently have a distinctive shape and come in a range of colors from purples to orange to green and more. Many heritage tomatoes are every bit as hardy as the hybrid varieties.

Heirloom tomatoes have become increasingly popular and more readily available in recent years. These tomatoes, in particular, bring as much to the garden as they do to the plate and they can't be beaten for their outstanding flavor and the beauty they add to recipes and dishes with their many shapes, sizes, and colors.

These plants have become more popular with gardeners due to their excellent flavor and wide diversity of shapes, colors, and sizes. Previously, these tomatoes often were bred for flavor, rather than resistance to diseases and pests, the vagaries of weather or the rigors of transport. Today, heirloom tomatoes are considered worthy garden varieties that have stood the test of time.

They are highly prized by cooks and are wonderful to use because of their variety of colors, unusual appearance and strong flavors. They are much tastier than hybrid varieties and can readily be reproduced true to type.

When young, the plants can be susceptible to cutworms which will cut the plant off at the top of the soil. This can be avoided by placing a collar made from aluminum foil around the base of the plant. Plants within this category of tomato generally ripen early in the season and are often have a short fruiting season. Most hybrid tomatoes, if regrown from collected seed, will not be the same as the original hybrid plant. This tends to ensure the grower's dependency on seed distributors for future crops. As with many plants, tomato cultivars can be acclimatized over several growing seasons to thrive in a particular geographical location through selection and seed saving.

Save some seeds to plant next year if you can beat the birds to them. Starting seeds directly where you want the tomatoes to grow will produce plants but your yield will be limited. You will get better results by starting your seeds in trays indoors. If using grow lights keep the plants within 6" of the lights. Once the seedlings send out a second set of leaves, it will be time to transplant them from the starting tray to individual pots. Gently loosen the soil in the starting tray and separate individual plants. Fill the pots loosely with moistened starting mix and use a dibber to make a hole in the mix. Gently firm the soil around the seedling and moisten lightly. If you start your seeds very early, you may need to transplant some of your biggest plants again as they will outgrow their pots.

When it looks like it is time to plant your seedlings outside, you will need to harden the plants by moving the pots outside into the shade during the day. Bring them inside at night. After a week or so your heirloom tomato plants should be ready to plant in the garden. Once planted out, water regularly and support them as they grow with stakes or tomato cages.
About the Author
Alison Stevens is an online author and maintains the Grow Great Tomatoes website to assist anyone who wants to get started growing heirloom tomatoes and other varieties of tomatoes.
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