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Finding, Saving & Sharing

Brandywine heirloom tomatoes

The brandywine tomato (left) is probably the most famous of the heirloom tomatoes; known for its succulence and remarkable flavor.

Just what are heirloom vegetables

They are plants grown from seeds that have been propagated in small farms and backyard gardens over the decades; saved and passed down from one family or group of people to the next generation. Hence the name heirloom. 

Heirloom veggies have recently become very trendy and popular by home gardeners as they experiment with these interesting and delicious strains of crops. By the way, heirloom seeds are all open pollinated, as hybrid seeds cannot be saved.

Sadly, many prized species of vegetables have been lost forever, as over the decades, fewer people saved seed. Just like an extinct animal, they can never be resurrected.

So growing heirlooms and saving the seeds to pass on is a very noble and worthwhile project which helps preserve our heritage! 

Why else should you grow heirloom vegetables? They usually have superior taste and tenderness.

The downside is, growing heirlooms can be quite a challenge. Because they are not bred for commercial use, they usually lack disease resistance, are more fragile, bruise easily, and do not keep very long. Heirloom tomato strains are prone to misshapen fruit, cracking and catfacing.

But if you like a challenge, and are willing to watch them carefully, grow some heirloom seeds, the reward for your trouble is superior taste!

Besides the Brandywine, other heirloom tomatoes which are well suited to hydroponic gardens: Cherokee Purple, Rainbow, Lillian's Yellow, Giant Beefsteak, Arkansas Traveler and Mortgage Lifter (see box).

Check around at garden supply centers, as more and more heirloom seeds are popping up on the shelves.


mortgage lifter heirloom tomatoes

The Mortgage Lifter heirloom tomato was developed in the 1930's in West Virginia by "Radiator Charlie" Byles. Without any experience in breeding, he developed this tasty strain which was so popular, he sold seedlings for $1 apiece, and was able to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in only six years!

   Popular Heirloom Seeds

Other popular heirloom strains are noted below. You might notice that some of them have been offered by major seed suppliers for years. 

Green beans: Blue Lake, Top Crop, Kentucky wonder, Contender

Cucumbers: Straight Eight, Spacemaster, Lemon Cucumber

Squash:  Early Summer Crookneck, Black Beauty Zucchini

Eggplant: Black Beauty, Violetta di Firenze

Peppers: California Wonder, Sweet Banana Pepper, Jalapeno

Cantaloupe: Hales Best Jumbo

Watermelon: Charleston Gray (BIG), Sugar Baby

Broccoli: De Cicco, Waltham

Cauliflower: Snowball

Cabbage: Copenhagen

Carrots: Little Fingers

Lettuce: Black Seeded Simpson, Buttercrunch, Parris Island Cos Romaine

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This fascinating website offers a great selection of heirloom seeds, well packaged to last for years: 


Once you have grown some heirloom tomatoes, make sure to dry out some seed from each crop (for sharing and saving). Here's how: 

1. Pick a couple of big, fully ripe tomatoes, cut them open and scrape the seeds out. 

2. Place the seed and attached pulp in a jar, add some warm water, cover and shake well. Drain the water, being careful to hold back the seeds. Refill with warm water. Add a spoonful of baking soda, close and give it a good hard shaking.

3. Place the jar in a cool dark place for a day.

4. During this time, the fertile seeds sink to the bottom, while the residue and infertile seeds float on top. Drain and separate out the fertile seeds. Spread them on a paper towel and separate them apart. Place the paper towel in the sun until bone dry. 

5. Store the dry seeds in a clean dry jar, with silica gel if possible to keep moisture out. Enclose the jar in a double layer of Ziploc bags to further keep the moisture out. Store the jar in a refrigerator (not the freezer).

Thoroughly dried tomato seeds can last up to 5 years when prepared and stored this way. 



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