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Heirloom Vegetables: Newbie with Q's on how far apart to plant heirloom tomatoes

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Forum: Heirloom VegetablesReplies: 4, Views: 191
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Mackinaw, IL
(Zone 5a)

March 21, 2008
5:11 PM

Post #4691219

OK, I think I've gotten myself in hot water. I've never tried heirloom tomatoes before, but on a whim got a packet of mixed heirloom tomatoes. It contains:

Bonny Best (red)
Brandywine Pink (pink)
Golden Sunburst (yellow)
Black Krim (purple)
Evergreen (green)
Djena Lee's Golden Girl (orange).

But I also bought seeds for Rutgers, and two hybrids, Super Boy and Best Boy.

Now I've spent hours reading, trying to learn about heirlooms and what I need to do differently, and can't find the answers to some of my questions!

1. Was it dumb to buy a mixed packet? I sowed them in little cells, several to a cell, but when it comes time to thin them, how do I know if they are a weakling, or just a smaller variety? These were the first to germinate, several days before the hybrids. I have 12 cells with 2-4 plants per cell. Do I just tease them apart and plant them all, to ensure I get a sampling of all the varieties? I usually only do 6-10 tomato plants a year, and this year got carried away with 30 cells, each with several plants! I can thin the hybrids without cringing, but don't know how to distinguish between the heirlooms when they are mixed. . .

2. When I eventually plant them out in the garden, how far apart do I need to plant them? Is cross-pollination only an issue if you are saving seeds for exchange, or does it affect this year's crop?

3. Do I need to worry about separating them from my hybrids? I have pretty limited space. Maybe I should put some of the hybrids in pots, and try to remember to water them regularly??? I've never done tomatoes in containers before. . .

4. I never knew the difference between determinate and indeterminate varieties before discovering DG. From all your vast realms of experience, what have you found works well for staking/caging/otherwise supporting the plants?

Thanks for any insight or direction you can give me!

Efland, NC
(Zone 7a)

March 21, 2008
5:29 PM

Post #4691276

Booker, don't think it was "dumb" to buy a mixed packet as you'll certainly get to enjoy your maters! However, you just won't know which one is which right off. The Brandywine (you have it listed as Brandywine Pink) will have potato-leaf foliage so that will tip you off on that one. However, I believe all the others are regular-leaf. (I haven't grown some on your list so can't say from memory!)

You should grow them out, and space them, just like you do any other tomato. I'd recommend 3 ft apart; you can increase that to 4 ft if you like, especially if your area is humid, as it will increase airflow around the plants helping to stave off certain foliage diseases.

All you have listed are indeterminates so they'll need either staking or caging (unless you prefer to just let them sprawl on the ground, which some folks do also).

As for 'teasing them apart'...yep, you can do that but I'd wait till they have their true leaves. Then repot them into cell packs or 3 to 4" pots, burying them up to their lower leaves.

Cross pollination is, as you said, only an issue if you are saving seed. And no, no need to separate them from your hybrids (unless you are saving seed).
If you choose to put some in containers I'd use at least something the size of a five gallon bucket, preferably a tad bigger if you can. And remember, put your container so the plant can be supported somehow (caged, staked).

Hope this helps. Just have fun!


Ijamsville, MD
(Zone 6b)

April 5, 2008
1:49 PM

Post #4760856

There is also a lot of info over in the tomato forum.
Check out the Sticky at the top. One of my favorite tips is Carolyn's seed starting tips article.

Trial and error and plenty of heirlooms - you will have tomato fever in no time!
Carmel, NY
(Zone 6b)

June 21, 2008
7:06 PM

Post #5138446

You can always "donate" your extras to friends and neighbors. You will be very popular, and if you don't get a sampling of each type at your house, at least you can get a taster or two from your friends!

Have fun! And welcome to our addiction!

(These were my last 2 tomatoes from last years garden - we had them with dinner Christmas week!)

Thumbnail by Sequee
Click the image for an enlarged view.


Mackinaw, IL
(Zone 5a)

June 22, 2008
12:38 AM

Post #5139810

Wow, Sequee, is 6b warm enough to still have tomatoes in December?

What kind of tomatoes are those? Never seen a little "tail" at the end quite like that. Seems like I read about them once on a Tomato Round Robin thread from a few years back (I know I saw your name there, too!), so curious what type they are.

As far as my heirlooms go, I killed all my seedlings. They were doing great, probably about 6" tall and happy under shop lights, when I decided to "go green" and use water from my dehumidifier to water them, rather than dump it out. They all died. Within half an hour of watering, they all started curling up and dropping leaves, poor things. I tried to save them, repotted in new soil & all, but no sucess. The whole saga was over in the tomato forum. I thought I was going to cry, after all my work! I lost 57 seedlings to one mistake.

Fortunately, TwinLakesChef has a very kind heart, and brought me several seedlings at the Iowa Round Up, and I also purchased a few more locally here (had to try Cherokee Purple, after all I've read), so I ended up with 7 plants. . .about the number I usually grow.

I'd planned to give away all sorts of seedlings, and instead ended up on the receiving end. Lesson learned: rainwater GOOD, dehumidifier water BAD.

Tomatoes are the entire reason I started gardening. All my friends used to love to come to my house for dinner, and requested spaghetti every time, because my mom and I canned tons of tomatoes. When I ventured out into the real world on my own, I just couldn't believe how awful store tomatoes (and commercial sauce) were!
Hence, the desperation for a garden. That was 20 years ago, and I still garden largely for the tomatoes and beans!


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