Master Gardener - Heirloom tomatoes perfect for home gardens

Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 03:24 PM.

Planting tomatoes

To have transplants ready to set out by mid-April, heirloom tomato seed should be started indoors in February. Plant seeds in shallow trays filled with a seed starting mix. Make sure the trays have several holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. Place trays in an area that receives plenty of sunlight and stays above 50 degrees to encourage vigorous growth. Water carefully to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet; Staying too wet may cause seedlings to rot. Individual seedlings should be transplanted into small pots or cell packs when they develop their first set of true leaves. After seedlings have been transplanted, you should start feeding them with a weak fertilizer solution or compost tea.   

Saving seeds

When your heirloom tomatoes begin to ripen later this summer, saving your own seed is simple. Select plants that show the most resistance to disease, have vigorous growth, and most importantly, have the best flavor! To save seed, allow tomatoes to completely ripen on the vine. Remove seeds from the fruit and place in a jar of water at room temperature. Stir daily to help remove seeds from the pulp. Strain off floating seeds and pulp each day. After a few days, strong viable seeds will sink to the bottom. You can then strain seeds from the water and place them on a paper towel in a warm area out of direct sunlight to dry. Once seed are completely dry, store them in an envelope or jar in a cool, dry place.

Learn more

For more tips on heirloom fruits and vegetables and information on saving seed, contact your local extension office. Visit to submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.


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