Collecting and Saving Heirloom Tomato Seeds
The variety of heirloom tomato seeds available for home gardeners has dramatically reduced since the early 1900s, although many have been preserved thanks to home gardeners who save seeds. Companies such as Sustainable Seed and seed banks have worked hard to preserve these treasures, collecting handfuls of seed, growing and saving them over the years to expand their availability.
A juicy red tomato that’s allowed to ripen on the vine is unparalleled for flavor. Heirloom tomato seeds can be chosen based on your preference for determinate plants or indeterminate plants. Determinate tomatoes are great for canning; presenting their crop over approximately a two week span, while indeterminate will produce new fruit all summer.
Are Tomatoes Classified as Fruits or Vegetables?
Categorically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit, however they are typically considered a vegetable. Their classification went as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, due to a port that charged tariffs for vegetables but not for fruit. The Court acknowledged them as fruit, but allowed the tax to remain as they are primarily used as a vegetable during cooking and meals. Regardless of their classification, the tomato is one of the most versatile types of produce, made into thick red sauces, canned and frozen, as well as tasting delicious fresh off the vine.
Starting Tomato Seeds
A wide variety of heirloom tomatoes are still available for home gardeners. It’s important to start seeds early to be able to enjoy a long harvest, particularly in areas with short growing seasons. Finding heirloom varieties at local nurseries is difficult, and the plants may already be exposed to inorganic growing methods. Starting your own tomato seeds is inexpensive and provides you with the opportunity to enjoy a handpicked variety of your favorite fruit.
The seed starting mix you use is important, it should be sterile and lightweight enough for the seeds to pop through, and not be too wet or too dry. The pots or trays should also be sterilized if you use them year after year. Some home gardeners prefer to use peat pots as they can be placed directly into the garden to avoid disturbing the roots. Tomatoes are not as fragile as some plants so they are not a necessity. The seed contains the nutrients the plants need to emerge and begin growing, so avoid adding fertilizer at this stage as it may burn the tiny seedlings.
Adequate light and heat are extremely important when starting heirloom tomato plants from seed. During the germination stage, which typically lasts until the seedlings emerge and are ½ inch tall, the trays or pots should be kept in a warm, but not hot area. Lighting is not as important at this stage, however be prepared to move them to a sunny South window, or under grow lights. Keep the bulbs approximately 5 inches above the plants to prevent burning. Light is essential to keep the plants from becoming leggy and spindly.
The correct balance of moisture is also important when starting seeds, keep the medium damp, but neither wet or dry. Place plastic over the trays to create a mini-greenhouse effect. This should be elevated as plants emerge to ensure it never touches the seedlings.
Heirloom Tomato Seed Varieties
You can choose from a variety of heirloom tomato seeds to grow in the garden based on your individual preferences. Cherry tomatoes are a popular choice for salads, and can help children become enthused about gardening. Big meaty tomatoes such as the Beefsteak are practically a meal on their own when sliced and drizzled with sugar, salt or a favorite dressing. Introduce a unique variety such as Sustainable Seed Company’s Vintage Wine Tomato Seeds for their thin skin and sweet, rich flavor.