Why start vegetable seeds inside?

transplanted tomatoes

Why would any of us bother to start seeds when we can go to nurseries to buy the plants. Well, I do both. I can only speak for myself but I have grown all kinds of unusual vegetables that I couldn’t find at the nursery and I like to try something new and different every year. Besides being ‘The Tomato Lady’ here at the Santa Farmers Market, I really like to try some new heirloom tomatoes every year along with my tried and true varieties. Every year some new variety gets on my ‘all-star’ list at the end of the season while others don’t make the cut. In fact in some years, many don’t make the cut-I’m picky as hell about my tomatoes. If I don’t like them I don’t grow them again. Luckily, I like many tomatoes but they’ve got to taste good!

Some of the unusual varieties I have tried and loved eating are Atomic Red carrots, Cosmic Purple carrots, Craupadine Beets, Tarabais beans, Rattlesnake beans, Emerite beans, Fava beans, Parisian cucumbers, Poona Kheera cucumbers, and about 25 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes (too many to mention). None of these are sold as plant starts in the nurseries but you can buy some of the seeds at the nurseries and some seeds you have to order online.

Tomato Lady of Santa Fe returns to the Farmers Market this Saturday August 25, 2012

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 25, I am returning to the Santa Fe Farmers Market as ‘The Tomato Lady’. At this time I have over 15 varieties of organically grown heirloom tomatoes from luscious black tomatoes like Purple Cherokee, supersweet yellow Virginia Sweets to Italian Red Costoluto Genevese and many, many more . I have over 50 plants and 25 varieties that will ripen as we go through the season. They are beautiful. They are gorgeous! And they taste wonderful! Magnifico!

I also have Shishito peppers, Costata Romanesco zucchini and Fairy eggplants that I will sell as well. Next week I will add some sunflowers out of my sunflower forest and Emerite French filet beans. I’ll be inside the building-look for ‘The Tomato Lady’ sign above my booth. Hours are 7am-noon. Hope to see you there!

How to collect heirloom tomato seeds

Tomato seeds fermenting in a jar. On the plate are some dried seeds.

I don’t collect hybrid tomato seeds as they may not grow back true.What that means is they may revert back to one parent or the other that they were crossed with. Heirloom tomatoes will grow back true.

The only heirloom tomato seeds I collect are from my giant tomatoes as I’m trying to get some seeds that do well in our high desert and give me some big, really big tomatoes. Last year I got 3 tomato seeds from a giant grower who grew a tomato over 7 lbs in Ohio. This year I got a pretty large tomato from one of those seeds. I kept the tomato which measured 19 inches in diameter and almost weighed 3 lbs and recently got the seeds. I will try some of these seeds next year as well as other big tomato seeds that I got from another grower this week.  Here’s how you can collect your favorite heirloom tomato seeds.

To collect tomato seeds, cut the tomato open, squeeze and scrape out all the seeds and put them in a little jar with some water. Then put the lid on. Try to not get too much pulp in with them. The seed/water mixture will start to ferment in a couple of days and it might bubble a little which is good. The fermentation will remove the slime on the seeds and the seeds will fall to the bottom of the mixture. When almost all the seeds are on the bottom, pour out the liquid, seeds and pulp through a fine sieve, removing the pulp. Keep rinsing until only the seeds are left. Spread them out on a paper towel to drain the excess water and then put them on another paper towel to finish drying. Before the seeds dry completely I move them around so the paper doesn’t stick to them. After they are thoroughly dry, put them in a ziplock baggie, label and store. You can keep any heirloom tomato seeds this way.

My only concern with collecting tomato seeds is if you plant cherry tomatoes too close to the heirloom tomato you want to keep, they may cross-pollinate so think about where they will be in your garden next spring and don’t plant them right next to each other. Tomatoes aren’t pollinated by bees but by the breeze or are self pollinating. Tomatoes originally came from South America and honeybees came from Europe or Africa so tomatoes aren’t native plants to the honeybee hence they aren’t interested which actually makes pollination easier to control.

Growing Virginia Sweet Tomatoes

Virginia Sweet Tomato

A lot of people are looking for Virginia Sweet tomatoes. Last year, a friend of mine gave me an unbelievable tomato called Virginia Sweet. They have been hard to find around here in the nurseries but you can find seeds to start your own at Tomatogrowers.com. So when I saw that Aqua Fria Nursery is growing them this year as starts, I got excited. I went out and got a couple of them and can’t wait to grow and EAT them as they are one of the sweetest, tastiest heirloom tomatoes around. They are a rather large (around 1 lb) bi-color tomato with red-yellow streaking on both the outside and inside and one of the more beautiful tomatoes you can grow. They take awhile to grow and get to harvest (about 80 days) but are definitely worth the wait. Right now they are inside under the lights waiting to go outside. If you like large, beautiful, delicious, supersweet tomatoes, you might want to try growing one of these this year.

beautiful marbling inside a Virgina Sweet tomato

What is the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes?

Heirloom tomato-Paul Robeson

So I researched the difference between heirloom and hybrid tomatoes because I wanted to be really clear about those differences and found some interesting information I would like to share. In fact this should apply to all heirloom vs hybrid veggies not just tomatoes but since I sort of specialize in tomatoes (and pumpkins) I’ll address it from that viewpoint.


Heirloom tomatoes are seeds that have been  grown for a number of years, saved and passed down for generations.  All heirloom plants are open pollinated (OP) which means it is able to produce seedlings with all its attributes just like its parent plant. Why should we grow heirlooms? Simply put because they taste better. They might not look as pretty as they tend to crack or get catface scratches because of their thin skin and they can be more disease prone but it’s hard to beat the flavor of a heirloom tomato!  This is why you don’t see a lot of them in supermarkets as they don’t transport well  and might not be pretty-in otherwords they are not as marketable on a commercial level. Last year I picked mine the day before going to our Santa Fe Farmers Market to ensure the best flavor and many of them I had to handled very carefully so as not to crack them but oh what flavor. And you know the patrons of Farmers Markets don’t care how they look-they care how they taste.


Gardeners, farmers and plant breeders have been cross-pollinating varieties to get certain desirable traits they are looking for such as color, texture, disease resistance and taste, etc. for years. They try to get the best features of both parent tomatoes.  These are called hybrid tomatoes. Hybrids also occur naturally as well in nature but hybrids whether man made or by nature are not as stable in that they may not reproduce plants with identical traits.

Hybrids should not be confused with GMOs (genetically modified organisms)  which can be any plant, animal or microorganism which has been genetically altered using genetic engineering techniques. Hybrids are not potentially harmful to us and in fact have been popular since the early 50s’. True to American nature,  it became how they looked-not how they taste on a commercial level. Now don’t get me wrong, I grow a few hybrids every year because they generally tend to be more disease resistant and the actual tomato looks good but I only grow some in case I have a disasterous year with my heirloom tomatoes. And some hybrids taste as good as heirlooms, some look better too but overall give me a heirloom tomato anytime.