Variety Spotlight - Organic Heirloom Tomatoes!
What are heirlooms tomatoes? What makes them unique? Heirloom tomatoes are tomatoes grown from seeds that have been passed down from generation to generation by individuals, not formal "breeding programs" or universities.
Every year at High Mowing we trial over 100 different varieties of tomatoes. Out of all those tomatoes, only 3-4 make the final cut. After that, we grow them out for a few more years, only saving seeds from plants that possess the best representation of characteristics of each particular variety. In the case of heirloom tomatoes, we are selecting primarily for taste, color, resistance to cracking, and disease resistance.
When you purchase organic heirloom tomato seeds from High Mowing you know that you are buying superior seed that has been grown specifically to highlight the unique characteristics that only heirlooms can have! We do the refining for you and you end up with the blissful results. Enjoy!
Our Recommended Varieties:
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Planting and Cultural Tips
- Start seeds 6-8 weeks before planting date (do not start too early; transplants will suffer if allowed to become root bound and leggy). You can use this online seed starting chart to help you figure out your planting date.
- Optimal soil temperature for germination is 75-85°F.
- For varieties requiring staking, place stake in row every two or three plants, tie twine to end stake and walk down one side of the row, looping twine around each stake until the end. Return down the other side of row, again looping twine around each stake, so that plants are sandwiched between two sides of twine.
Harvest, Storage & Marketing Tips
At the recent New Mexico Organic Farming Conference in Albuquerque, cookbook author and local food advocate Deborah Madison gave a talk on the importance of recognizing varieties by name. During “Connecting with Your Customers: Merchandising for Farmers’ Market Sales”, Ms. Madison encouraged direct marketers to emphasize variety names and stories as a way to draw customers in and catch their attention. Her slideshow demonstrated examples of clever, humorous or simply informative signage that gave more of a “story” to the customers. Our own Paul Betz of High Ledge Farm knows a thing or two about signage…here's one of his examples:
Market growers: With the increased popularity of heirloom tomatoes, don’t forget to inform your customers about the distinctions between all these amazing varieties. It’s not enough to label a bin of diverse tomatoes simply “heirloom”; train your customers to the names and qualities of each variety, so that next year, they can ask for them by name.
Gardeners: Although your knowledge of variety names starts with flipping the pages of a seed catalog, don’t forget to track these varieties through the season and on to your table, making note of their different growth habits, days to maturity, flavor and texture.
- Harvest tomatoes fully ripe for best flavor.
- Tomatoes can also be harvested green or at first blush and ripened off the vine at temperatures above 70°F.
- Store between 55° - 70°F at 95% relative humidity. Storing below 50°F can result in chilling damage.
Disease and Pests ID
Colorado Potato Beetle - The Colorado potato beetle (CPB) can be a significant pest. Spinosad (such as Entrust™) works rapidly and effectively against CPB, as well as against corn earworm, imported cabbage worm, codling moth, and several other difficult lepidopterous pests. Crop rotation, control of solanaceous weeds, barrier trenches between old and new plantings, trap cropping, use of straw mulch or row cover can delay or reduce CPB pressure. For more information, see Colorado Potato Beetle: Organic Control Options
Early Blight - Early blight is caused by Alternaria solani and Alternaria alternata in cooperation with Septoria lycopersici. Early blight is best treated early with regular applications of fungicidal sprays such as oxidate and/or copper hydroxide. Read more preventative tips from Barbara Pleasant at Mother Earth News
Late Blight - Caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans, is most prevalent in moister climates such as the eastern regions of the U.S. Symptoms of late blight include water-soaked areas at the leaf tips that spread inwards and become dark brown and brittle after one or two days. Symptoms can superficially resemble early blight, but are distinguished by the fact that late blight obliterates the pattern of leaf veins where as early blight does not. Action muct be taken quickly if symptoms appear. Use fungicidal sprays such as oxidate (such as Storox™, and/or copper hydroxide (such as Champion WP™). Check with your organic certifier before applying suggested compounds. More information about treating Late Blight organically. Also, check out the UMASS extension's webinar about Late Blight.
Bacterial Canker - (Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis) has become more common in recent years with the increase in greenhouse tomato operations. The most distinctive symptom of are raised, light tan, “birds-eye” cankers, no more than 3 mm in size. Diseased plants should immediately be removed and destroyed to prevent spread. Most sprays are largely ineffective and can serve to spread the disease. More information on treating Bacterial Canker organically, from Cornell University.
Seed Saving Instructions!
Tomatoes are self pollinating. Different tomato varieties rarely cross with one another so isolation distances are not generally required. The seed is mature when the tomato itself is ripe. Squeeze the seeds and juice into a jar and add about the same amount of water. Allow this liquid to ferment in a warm place for 3-5 days, stirring daily, until the seeds have sunk to the bottom of the jar. Rinse the seeds and allow to dry on a paper plate or cloth. Use of a 1/8" screen can help with cleaning. Tomato seeds remain viable for 4-10 years under cool and dry storage conditions.