24K Heirloom Tomatoes & Friends


In the winter, we study all the catalogues, our notes, and memories. Our best guide is our experience from past seasons and the experiences of our friends who grow tomatoes. Remarkably, there arefew tomatoes which are consistent. Most have good years and bad years. A variety that was stunning last year may not go to the top of the class the following year. But there are some that have proven to be consistent. Best examples are Kellogg's Breakfast (my overall favorite tomato), Brandywine Sudduth, Orange Russian, Aussie, Neves Azorean Red and Sungold. Others that are mostly wonderful, but not always include Prudens Purple, Delicious, Giant Belgium, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Anana's Noire and Big Rainbow. To the list of proven favorites, we decide which new ones to try in small numbers, getting ideas from catalogues, recommendations from friends, and books.


Next we decide how many plants to grow overall and how many of each variety. At the beginning, we used peat pellets, an excellent method for growing heirloom tomato plants in relatively small numbers. In late March through early April we would plant the seeds in peat pellets and dome enclosed trays. We know there are tons of methods to start seedlings, many less expensive than this method. But we are very comfortable with this method because the germination rate is near 100%, we can easily observe their progress, the dome keeps the seedlings moist, they are easy to surround with grow lights (t-5's), easy to water and keep warm in the house. When it is time to transplant, it is easy to handle each plant because the roots are in the peat pellets and you can easily place it deep in the 4 inch pot. I have tried other methods. This would work for us. Yes the nets around the pellets are annoying in the ground at season's end, and they do cost a few cents each. But year after year, the success of this method has us convinced that if you are growing non-commercially, this is a great way to do it.

You can get your peat pellets many places. (We use Jiffy7 which is sold at Lowe's, Home Depot and on Amazon as inexpensively as we have been able to find.) If you use this process, you can easily mark the varieties on the tray edges. Be sure to gently spray the pellets each day. Keep them in the dark until the leaves are up, and then keep them under T-5 grow lights during the day. Do not let them dry up!! And remember to remove the domes when the first seedlings reach them. And gradually lift the T-5 grow light as the plants grow. You want them relatively close to the plants. (If you plan to grow large numbers of plants (more than 300), grow trays will be more efficient than peat pellets. Much more economical use of space and easier to water and keep under lights).