Heirloom varieties are from seeds that have been passed down for 50 years or more. In today’s world of commercial farming where seeds have been altered to produce and feed a large number of people, heirlooms are a blast from the past.  

Heirloom seed hasn’t been modified and has been passed down through generations. They come in a large variety of colors, shapes, sizes and above all, flavors. Whether you are making a sauce, slicing one for a sandwich, or tossing them in a salad, the different flavors are amazing. Mixing different varieties will make your meals delicious.

Tomatoes come in two categories, determinate (which produce all at once) and indeterminate (which produce all season until frost). Most heirloom tomatoes and all peppers are indeterminate, assuring you a full season of fruit and vegetables. 

Though all tomatoes and peppers contain vitamins and lycopene, heirloom varieties have the highest level of these important nutrients. Lycopene is a powerful natural antioxidant that has been proven to help protect skin from dangerous UV rays. They are also a good source of vitamin C.  Most hot peppers can contain more vitamin C than oranges.

Since heirloom varieties have not been altered for disease prevention, here are a few tips for success. 

Make sure you give your plants plenty of space to grow, about a foot or more between plants.  This will create an environment with good airflow, helping to keep your plants dry.  Wet leaves can create an environment for disease. 

Water your plants from the ground, not overhead.  Soaker hoses are wonderful and easy to install. This puts the water directly where you want it to go.  

Use a ground cover, or mulch, like straw. This will help with any rain water that may splash up onto the leaves.  It will also help keep the soil watered in the heat of the summer. 

With heirloom tomatoes, as the plant gets larger it is good to remove the lower leaves. It is safe to pinch off any suckers, as well.  Suckers are the stems that grow in the middle of a branch.  These do not produce fruit, and create a denser plant restricting air flow. 

Also, heirloom tomatoes tend to be thinner skinned.  They crack or split faster than hybrids when they have too much water.  It is best to check them every day and pick them as soon as they are ripe or if you see there will be heavy rains in the forecast. You can always lay them on the counter to ripen. 

Never place any tomato in the refrigerator!  They do not like the cold, and with heirlooms especially, the flavors are destroyed. 

Gardening is a fun science experiment that produces delicious nutritious food.  Don’t be afraid to try something new. Keep notes on what works for you and what doesn’t. Every year brings a new adventure and challenges, especially when dealing with the weather.  Happy Gardening!!