When people ask us about heirlooms, their first questions is usually about tomatoes. There is something magical about the deliciousness of heirloom tomatoes. The flavor of a vine-ripened, homegrown, heirloom tomato is unforgettable.
With so many varieties of tomatoes to choose from, you might be left wondering “what’s the difference?" and what's best for my garden? We've gathered info on different types and varieties to help you decide.
First, we have the broad characterization of Indeterminate and Determinate.
Determinate tomatoes produce the fruit all at once. These are typically bush tomatoes, and make the best tomatoes for container gardening. Since all the tomatoes are ripe within a short period of time, these are great plant choices if you plan to can or have a short tomato growing season.
Indeterminate tomatoes grow on a vine. If properly cared for, will produce all season until frost.
From here, you have a more specific classification of Tomato including
Beefsteak tomatoes are some of the largest cultivated tomatoes around, with a meaty texture and intense, classic-tomato flavor. Thanks to their thick consistency and compact seed cavities, beefsteak tomatoes hold up well when sliced, making them perfect for sandwiches. They're typically red or pink, certain varieties of beefsteak tomatoes come in a rainbow of colors including Pink, red, purple, black, or yellow fruit.
A few of the heirloom beefsteak varieties we carry at Mary's Heirloom Seeds includes
Plum tomatoes have an almost cylindrical shape and few seeds, making them perfect for preserving. If you are looking for heirloom tomatoes to make your own sauce, the San Marzano tomato is arguably "the" tomato. Roma is a paste tomato and one of the most widely grown tomato. Smaller plum tomatoes are often called "grape" tomatoes so we are combining them in our list.
A few heirloom Plum varieties we carry at Mary's Heirloom Seeds includes
Oxheart holds a special place in my heart. My grandmother's husband Jim used to grow our Pink Oxheart tomatoes every year before he passed. They would harvest buckets full of tomatoes every year in Utah.
Growing food from seeds is AMAZING. It is truly an awe inspiring experience. These tiny seeds can grow to be huge plants, sometimes producing hundreds of pounds of food. Sometimes those tiny seeds grow a beautiful radish or flower.
Understanding Seed Germination
When you decide to grow from seed, you'll need to decide if you're going to start indoors or outside. In this article, we will explain the process of seed germination as well as indoor/outdoor seed starting requirements. We also have a tip using Cinnamon!
But first, what is germination?
In simple terms, it is the process of a seed developing into a plant. Germination usually occurs below ground, before the stem and leaves appear above the soil.
All fully developed seeds contain three basic parts, the embryo, endosperm and seed coat.
The embryo is the part of the seed that develops into a plant. It contains the embryonic root (radical), embryonic stem (epicotyl and hypocotyl), and one or two seed leaves (cotyledons).
The endosperm contains the starch or stored energy for the developing embryo and is the largest part of the seed, packed around the embryo.
The seed coat is the outer layer that protects the seed’s internal structures.
In order for a seed to germinate, there are a few important factors: Water, oxygen and proper temperature.
Water is one of the vital elements when starting plants from seed. Too much water and your seeds will drown or rot. Too little and they will either fail to germinate or die once they do.
When a seed is exposed to the proper conditions, water and oxygen are absorbed through the seed coat and cause the embryo cells to enlarge. If there is not enough oxygen present, germination may not occur. The most common reason for a lack of oxygen is too much water in the soil due to over-watering or flooding.
Temperature is a bit trickier. Temperature requirements vary between species, but the general guide is between 68 F and 86 F, but 77°F is optimum.
Sometimes, it's not just as simple as sticking a seed into the ground.
Planting depth matters!
Seed sowing depth has a key role to play in germination. If you plant seeds too deep, they may fail to germinate. Alternatively, if you plant them too shallow, you could expose tender roots at germination, or the seeds could even wash away entirely.
The general rule for seeds is two or three times as deep as the seed’s diameter. That means those tiny seeds can often be surface sown while those giant beans need to plant planted plenty deep.
We have several articles and videos about seed starting (posted below). Some seeds need light, others need darkness. Some seeds do better with a 12-24 hour soaking and some require cold stratification or scarification.
Cold stratification is an extremely easy process and once you’ve done it once, you’ll no doubt get the hang of it. The time you need to keep your seeds in the refrigerator depends on the variety, but 4-5 weeks should be a sufficient amount of time for most seed varieties.
Once there’s no more chance of frost in your area, take your seeds out of the fridge and plant as normal. The simple, quick process of cold stratification helps the seed germinate quicker and grow more readily in your garden bed.
DIY Cold Stratification
Coconut Coir or Sand & Water
Place a 1/4 cup of coconut coir sand (or more) in a mixing bowl. Slowly add water until you can form a ball with the sand/water mixture.
Add your desired seed amount to the sand. Mix thoroughly.
Place sand/seed mixture in a ziploc bag or container and seal.
Label the variety and date clearly on the bag.
Place in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks before planting. If seedlings start to sprout in the bag in the refrigerator, remove immediately and either plant in the ground or in pots until it’s time to plant outdoors.
-Quality seeds -Growing medium -Water -Temperature -Light
If you read our online reviews on our website and social media, you'll see that customers report very successful germination rates with Mary's Heirloom Seeds. If you're not sure about growing a certain variety in your area, we are just an email away and we're happy to answer your seed or garden related questions.
If you are starting seeds indoors or in containers, it is recommended to use "sterile" seed starting mix or soilless medium such as coconut coir mixed with perlite.
A good seed starting medium should be fine, uniform, well aerated, and loosely packed. It also needs to be free of insects, disease organisms, and weed seeds.
As we mention above, too much water can reduce oxygen levels and kill your seeds. Not enough water can cause developing seeds/seedlings to shrivel up and die before they reach the surface.
Keep your soil/medium moist but not waterlogged.
Temperature was also mentioned above. If you are starting seeds indoors, there are several options to warm up your soil: above the refrigerator, in a greenhouse (preferably heated) or a heating mat.
This is an important factor. While some seeds need light and others need darkness to germinate, plants NEED light. When your tiny seedlings begin to emerge, they will need a light source. If you are starting seeds indoors, it is best to use a grow light or something similar that is very close to your seedlings.
The type of light you use will determine how close it needs to be to your plants. In general, a florescent should be 10-12 inches away, while an LED should be 24-36 inches away. These are just general recommendations.
If you use a sunny windowsill indoors, seedlings often become "leggy" and not very strong. Rotating them daily and using a fan on low can help.
Remember how I mentioned Cinnamon?
Damping off is a soil-borne fungal disease that affects seeds and new seedlings. Several fungi can cause decay of seeds and seedlings including species of rhizoctonia, fusarium and phytophthora.
The most common way damping off will present itself is when your plant stalks become water-soaked, thin and mushy, and fall over at the base and die.
The seedlings, especially the cotyledons (the first leaves produced) may have a kind of gray-brown color, and young leaves will wilt and turn from green-gray to brown.
There is no cure for plants that already have damping off. However, you can easily prevent the problem by providing good air circulation
Cinnamon is a natural anti-bacterial and is often used as a rooting hormone. Bonus, it's delicious and most of us have a bottle or two in our kitchen cabinet.
Once your seeds are planted, gently sprinkle cinnamon over the surface. If you are starting seeds in trays, be sure to "bottom water" and don't over-water.
My best advice is to plant more seeds than you think you will need. Some will be eaten by bugs, some might not make it after transplant ans some may not thrive. The remaining seedlings might feed you for years to come. Have patience, plant seeds and enjoy the experience!
Sow Basil seeds indoors 2-4 weeks before your last frost day OR sow seeds outside when soil is warm and temperatures do not drop below 65 F during the day. Seeds should be sown less than 1/4 inch deep in moist, well-drained soil.
Basil seeds usually germinate in as few as 5-7 days. Make successive sowings of basil seeds for continuous summer harvests.
From seed to harvest, Basil is ready in as few as 45 days. Basil can grow in full sun as as little as 6 hours of sun. Space Basil plants about 12 inches apart or interplant basil between larger plants such as Tomatoes and Peppers.
Water basil when soil is dry to the touch and try to water soil and not leaves. In warmer months, Basil will need more water.
Basil is pretty pest tolerant but you might see the occasional flea beetle marks or leaf miners. Aphids can usually be sprayed of with a water hose.
One healthy, well pruned Basil plant can produce around 1/2 cup of leaves every week. If you're limited on space, there are even dwarf varieties such as Dwarf Greek Basil.
Once mature, harvest basil leaves regularly to promote healthy growth. It is usually recommended to harvest from the top of the plant, using scissors or fingernails. Try to cut as close to the stem as possible.
Pinching off flowers is recommended to keep a continuous harvest all summer long. Flowering is also called "bolting" and the plant will put forth more energy for flower production. If you wish to save the seeds, allow your plants to bolt.
Cherokee Purple: Indeterminate. 90 days to maturity. thought to have been passed down from Native Americans of the Cherokee tribe. Vigorous vines benefit from strong staking or caging.
San Marzano Tall Vine: Indeterminate. 90 days to maturity. AMAZING for sauce. Grows VERY well here in California. We made the most delicious sauce last year. San Marzano is the premier canning tomato with heavy walls, very few seeds and little juice
Mortgage Lifter: Indeterminate. 90 days to maturity. Kentucky family heirloom grown since the 1930s. Exceptionally meaty and typically crack-free.
Green Zebra: Indeterminate. 75 to 90 days to maturity. Flesh is bright green and very rich tasting, sweet with a sharp bite to it (just too good to describe!). A favorite tomato of many high class chefs, specialty markets, and home gardeners. Around 3 ounces each and Yield is excellent.
You'll find over 70 varieties of Heirloom Tomato seeds at Mary's Heirloom Seeds. We continue to grow and help people grow more and more every year. if you're looking for seeds, You're in the right place!
If you have additional questions please give us a call or email
Cold hardiness and nutrient-rich qualities are why cabbage makes this list. It can stay in the garden late into fall and store in a root cellar or cold greenhouse. Sauerkraut, a fermented food rich in vitamins and probiotics, is a traditional means of preserving cabbage, and your kraut can keep in a crock for months.
Pictured is Pak Choy Cabbage (also called bok choy and pok choy). This is a fantastic, fast-growing variety of Chinese cabbage.
Kale is a superfood that keeps on giving! When growing Kale, you harvest the outer leaves instead of pulling up the whole plant. This allows for multiple harvests of nutrient-dense food.
Lacinato Kale is a good heat-tolerant variety if you live in warmer climates
Winter squash, rich in fiber and vitamins A and C. Grow ‘Waltham Butternut’ for a pest-resistant, HUGE performer in the garden. Pumpkin and Acorn squash are also homestead favorites and they store very well.
HUBBARB BLUE reaches 16 to 20 pounds. It is also a "trap crop" for companion planting so Hubbard Blue is a must-have in our garden
If stored properly, winter squash and pumpkin can last a few months after harvest making this an excellent homestead crop.
Beans are most definitely a homestead favorite. From our article Feeding a Family from the garden, it is recommended to plant 10-20 plants per person to feed for a year. If you're just looking to add to your food preps, 5 plants or more per person would work
Dry beans, or legumes, are a homestead favorite as they store very well without needed to can them.
Green Beans are easy to grow and can or freeze. If you have a smaller garden space, planting pole beans are an excellent option as they grow UP.
Flint corn is suited to cooler, wetter climates and is the most difficult to grind.
Flour corn, grown by American Indians in the Southwest, is the easiest to grind.
Dent corn is characterized by the dent in the top of each kernel.
Common field corn is dent corn.
Popcorn is exactly as the name implies. It is used dried for popping.
Sweet corn does not store as well so it should be consumed or preserved after harvest.
ROOT CROPS: Garlic & Potatoes
I know I mention a few different root crops for homesteading but Garlic and Potatoes are in a category together as they store very well if properly cured. "Seed potatoes" and "seed garlic" is available from most seed companies only seasonally. You can use store bought but you might be exposing your garden to soil born diseases.
Tomatoes can be dried, frozen or canned. They can be made into soups, sauces, pastes and more. They then become the base ingredient in hundreds of kitchen recipes. Tomatoes are one of the easiest veggies to can because they are a high acid veggie and as such, they can be water bath canned instead of needing a pressure canner.
Fast growing, fast maturing and a double duty crop because you eat the root and greens. Easy to pickle and delicious raw. Radish can also be roasted just like mini potatoes. French Breakfast Radish is a more mild variety. German Giant Radish can be eaten small or large. Japanese Daikon is a nice, spicy variety but it takes a couple weeks longer to mature.
Fast growing, fast maturing and a double duty crop because you eat the root and greens of beets. Depending on your growing region, some gardeners can grow beets year-round.
Detroit Dark Red is definitely a favorite because it's so pest resistant. Red Mammoth Mangel deserves a mention because it can grow 20 POUNDS, making it great to feed livestock
Wheat for those of you not gluten sensitive. Wheat is used to make so many food items such as bread, pasta and pastries.
We carry Einkorn Wheat berries, which is an ancient grain. Some people with gluten sensitivity have had success using Einkorn instead.
BUT...I would say SUNFLOWERS instead on our homestead. We avoid wheat. Sunflowers produce seeds to feed us and our chickens. They also produce A LOT of seeds to grow more. Sunflowers also attract pollinators to our garden to help us grow the BEST garden ever!
Pretty much grow your own pharmacy if you know what to grow and how to dry it. We offer a few seed combo packs like the "In the Kitchen" Herb Garden Kit to help you grow a small herb garden. For your own home apothecary, we have quite a few options. CLICK HERE to see our herb seed combo packs
Produces a diversity of gorgeous translucent, jewel-colored ears, each one unique. A stunning corn variety selected over many years by Carl "White Eagle" Barnes, a part-Cherokee farmer and breeder from Oklahoma.
Selected from crossing several traditional corn varieties and saving seed from the vivid, translucent kernels. Size of ears range from 3-8 inches.
Glass Gem Corn plants commonly produce numerous tillers, or side stalks, which also produce ears. Height of plants depend upon quantity of water, but can reach up to 9 feet, typically 6 feet. A popcorn, the kernels may be ground into cornmeal or popped
In the course of growing some of the older corn varieties still being farmed at that time, Carl began noticing ancestral types of corn re-appearing in his crops. As he isolated these, he found many of the variants to match up with traditional corns that had been lost to many of the Native tribes - particularly those peoples who had been relocated during the 1800s to what is now Oklahoma. Thus, he was able to re-introduce specific corn types to the elders of those tribes, and this helped their people in reclaiming their cultural identities. The corn is, to them, literally the same as their blood line, their language, and their sense of who they are."
What are some of the Heirloom Corn varieties that Carl worked to "Back to Life"?
Plant corn in well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Grow in full sun. Mulching around your corn will help keep the free of invasive weeds during the summer.
Corn seeds should be sown in warm conditions, covered very lightly (depth of ¼ inch) and kept reasonably moist until seedlings emerge.
The sweet corn seedlings should germinate after 10 - 12 days, and once they have fully emerged the weakest seedling from each pot should be removed. If you choose to direct-sow, thin Seedlings 6-8 inches apart.
Water well and if they are being germinated indoors - move to a warm, bright windowsill.
40-60 days. A hardy Japanese non-heading type mustard that is extremely vigorous and cold tolerant.
Mizuna grows in bunches and has long stems growing from a central stalk. The dark green leaves have deeply serrated edges and have a fringed appearance. The thin, white stems are firm and offer a crunchy texture. Mizuna is harvested at both the baby lettuce and mature stages, with the younger leaves being more tender and milder.
20-50 days. Contains: Arugula, Red Russian Kale, Greenwave, Tatsoi, and Mizuna Mustard, and Paris Island Cos Lettuce. Start harvesting your greens when they’re 4- to 6-inches long. This can be as soon as 2 weeks after planting!
80 days. (Indeterminate) Bulgarian heirloom tomato
The word druzba means "friendship" in Bulgarian and Druzba is a very friendly tomato. Not too large, half pound to a pound, the fruit is born in clusters of 3 to 5. Flavor is outstanding, with just the right combination of sweetness and tartness.
60-70 days. (Semi-determinate) Moskvich is a high quality, early season, Russian Heirloom.
Fruits are round to slightly flattened with deep red color and luscious, rich flavor. Great eaten fresh or processed. Highly resistant to cracking, making it a great pick for the greenhouse. Like most Russian varieties, it can stand up to cool conditions.
Tomatillo is an often overlooked heirloom variety. Native to Mexico and domesticated by the Aztecs around 800 B.C., the tomatillo is one of our most ancient food bearing plants.
Growing Tomatillo is similar to growing tomatoes but isn't as heavy a feeder as tomatoes.
Select a growing area with full sun exposure and well-drained, moderately rich soil.
The rule of thumb for sowing seeds is to plant the seed twice as deep as it is wide (or twice as deep as the diameter of the seed). Tomatillo seeds are really small, so don’t plant them very deep – they only need to be planted 1/8″ – 1/4″ deep. Grow at least 2 plants at a time, more if you plan to make a bit of salsa.
My personal rule of thumb is to always plant more than you think you'll will need. This will come in handy if you have pest issues such as bugs, birds, squirrels and even cats. If you produce more than you need or use, you can always store for later or share with friends and family.
Similar to growing tomatoes, Tomatillo sprouts roots along the stems, so it does well when planted deep in the soil. Tomatillo plants grow 3 to 4 feet tall and about the same in width, so space the plants 3 feet apart in rows 3 to 4 feet apart. Plan to give them support in the form of gardening trellises or tomato cages.
Tomatillo will continue to produce until frost takes over. Although moderately drought-tolerant, tomatillos do best with an inch or so of water per week (more if you live in a very hot climate).
Companion Planting for Tomatillo
We use the same companion planting info for Tomatoes when we plant Tomatillos.
Friends of tomatoes are many and include: asparagus,basil, bean, carrots, celery, chive, cucumber, garlic, head lettuce, marigold, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, pepper,marigold, pot marigold and sow thistle. One drawback with tomatoes and carrots: tomato plants can stunt the growth of your carrots but the carrots will still be of good flavor. Basil repels flies and mosquitoes, improves growth and flavor.Borage deters tomato worm.
You know a tomatillo is ready to be cut from the plant when the fruit has filled out the husk. Left to ripen further, the fruit will frequently split the husk and turn yellow or purple depending on its genetics.
We hope you have enjoyed yet another informative growing article here at Mary's Heirloom Seeds. If you have additional questions please ask!