The rough translation of a heirloom is an object that has been passed down from generation to generation of a family, an item inseparable from their identity and perhaps contributing to it. The weirdest things can be heirlooms, from Grandma's haircombs to the hideous family cookie jar.
It is sort of a species of tomatoes not grown commercially but rather a home garden species, that is open-pollinated. This means Nature's little helpers carry out the pollination and the genetics of the plant can vary in its offspring but certain traits and distinctive features remain.
Heirloom tomatoes grow and reproduce naturally and hence are true relics, some species were created as far back as 1940. Plus heirloom tomatoes are larger with a juicier taste as compared to their commercial counterparts.
Each species is thought to have a unique texture and taste. Even colors vary from dark to bright red or pink, yellow and green variants. So how does one grow such a work of art? Read on, to learn how to grow heirloom tomatoes in a garden or as a potted plant.
Growing Heirloom Tomatoes in Containers
Unless you wish to start your own strain of heirloom tomatoes, it is easier to grow seedlings or starts of a heirloom tomato plant, which can be purchased from a nursery or greenhouse. If you know a friend or neighbor who grows heirloom tomatoes, you can use a start or seedling from his/hers garden. This is advisable, especially for novice gardeners.
The tomato plant should be of a determinate variety as these plants will stop growing at a particular height and tend to grow bushy, compact. Indeterminates will keep vining and need constant support. For such plants, use a trellis or a cage. Some heirloom varieties like Black Seaman, Florida Basket and Tiny Tim are specifically bred to grow in containers.
The container should be able to drain water well but retain moisture in the soil. Next comes the soil. The taste, color and texture of your tomato fruit depends heavily on the soil it is grown in. The soil should drain well but be able to retain moisture and nutrients. You can season the soil with some compost, the best organic fertilizer.
The soil shouldn't be too damp and tight but loose. Peat moss, perlite and vermiculite are recommended soil mix ingredients to add to your growing soil. They are equivalent to vitamin supplements in foods, as they add nutrients and drain water too. The soil should smell earthy, not stink or reek.
Loosen the soil in the pot by digging deep into it. Make the soil fluffy and airy by digging and turning over the soil repeatedly. Take out rocks, wood shavings and wood pieces. Crumble big chunks or clumps of earth. Apply manure or compost at this time.
If you are growing an indeterminate tomato plant, then place support like a trellis or a cage in the container. The growing plant will vine and grasp the support at this time, providing such support later will not be of any use. Place stakes or a cage, a week after planting or when the plant has reached a height of 6-10 inches.
Fertilize the soil regularly. The draining nature of the soil can cause nutrients to be drained away along with the water. So use a water soluble fertilizer and apply it every 2 weeks. Tomato plants need sunlight to grow strong and tall, so they should receive at least 6 hours of sunshine. If they are indoor plants, they need to moved outside for sunshine.
Place the pots at a slight distance from each other, so the containers aren't too congested and get plenty of "air". Plants in a container need more water as compared to soil bed plants, as the roots cannot reach deep into the soil to get water. Do not let the soil become very dry. In the summer season, water the plants daily.
Growing Heirloom Tomatoes from Seeds
To grow heirloom tomatoes from seeds, one must collect the seeds first. You can purchase seeds from your local gardening store or obtain the seeds directly from a particular heirloom tomato plant, in order to propagate that genetic strain further.
- Start with a heirloom tomato.
- Cut the tomato along its middle or equator into half.
- Scoop out the seeds with their liquid or goo using your fingers or a spoon. Place them in a container or a cup.
- Pour 2-3 tablespoons of water, add some seed starting mix (not mandatory) and moisten the seeds.
- Cover the top of the container with plastic wrap and make a small hole in it, so that air can pass through.
- Place this container in a warm and sunny location. Let the seeds ferment for 2-3 days.
- The tomato liquid will separate and collect on top of the fermented seeds. Remove this and then wash the seeds with water. Use a colander or sieve to separate any leftover pulp.
- Lay the seeds on a plate to dry out completely. Do not attempt to heat them or dry them off with a tissue. Once dry, you can either store them or plant them.
Place this container in a pan of water, so that the soil soaks up the water. After that, cover the container and leave it in a warm place. Within a few days, little sprouts will appear on the soil's surface. All this should be done indoors. If the weather is cold, do not move the plants out.
Wait for the frosty weather to stop, then only transplant the seedlings to a soil bed. In the soil, make a hole, plant the root of the plant, water the hole and then fill in the soil. Firmly pat the soil around the root of the plant. There should be sufficient space between each plant, at least 3-5 feet to allow for air circulation.
As with potted heirlooms, a nice sunny area is needed for growing. Rather than watering the plants everyday, you should water them deeply once a week. Do not let the soil get too dry before watering.
In summation, tomatoes are one of the easiest plants around to grow. All they need is support while growing, lots of sunshine and a tender caring attitude from their gardener. So leave a green, natural and ever-giving heirloom for your descendants, by growing your own heirloom tomato plant.