What are heirloom tomatoes?
It depends on whom you ask. Some want the term only used to describe varieties that have been in existence since the 1940's or so. Others use terms like "family heirlooms," "commercial heirlooms," and "created heirlooms." We use the term inclusively, to mean those varieties that are not F1 hybrids, and which can be reproduced from saved seed. Some of these are documented back to the late 1800's, such as Brandywine and Cherokee Purple. Others are more recent: Ananas Noire, Indigo Rose, and all the varieties from the Dwarf Tomato Project. There is a lot of great, innovative tomato breeding out there, and we want to include as much as possible.
So how do you choose them?
We research varieties by looking not just at seed sellers' claims, but other published sources written by growers who comment on their results. We try to find varieties that give good results both to the north and south of our area. We also include a few varieties about which little is known, to give folks a chance to try something new. You can add your results to sites such as Dave's Garden and Baker Creek Seeds, and find some information on varieties as well. We test new varieties each year in our Herndon garden, and mark those that do very well in future sales.
Some strains are highly variable, depending on soil and local growing conditions. The same tomato can also vary summer to summer, growing tasty fruit one year and bland fruit the next. The only way to know is to try it.
What's with all the colors?
Tomato colors are somewhat hard to figure: "white" tomatoes look yellow, "yellows" can appear orange, "pinks" can look red, and "purple" or "black" often look like an overripe red with green shoulders. A lot of these designations are traditional. This article explains some of the reasoning behind them. Recently, Oregon State University released Indigo Rose, which they are calling purple, and many growers (including this one) are calling blue.
What if I garden in containers?
Any tomato can be grown in a container, if you are willing to prune it enough. But some are easier than others; look for determinate and semi-determinate varieties, or for those that vine less aggressively. If we find that gardeners have grown something in a pot successfully, we make a note. Larger pots give better results. You will need to feed and water more frequently. Ohio State University has great articles here and here. Also look for tomatoes from the Dwarf Tomato Project; we have five of them in our 2012 sale.
What's the best way to plant seedlings?
Our seedlings are hardened off and ready to plant. Tomato and pepper seedlings should be planted deeply, up to the bottom leaves; new roots will grow out of the stem, resulting in a stronger plant. Once planted, water them well to prevent transplant shock. Here is a good article on transplanting tomato seedlings.
How should I prune tomatoes?
The simplest way to prune tomatoes is by keeping to one main stem. This is especially effective when growing in containers; take a look at the article and video on WikiHow. If you have them in the ground and the soil is healthy, you can try pruning them to two or three stems. Since each stem on an indeterminate tomato vine will produce more stems, this can get pretty complicated. Determinate tomato varieties do not need to be pruned, and semi-determinates need less pruning; those are tomatoes that simply vine less aggressively. If you don't mind the mess, indeterminate varieties can be allowed to sprawl, especially if the soil is good and they get plenty of sun. I have done this, and with currant tomatoes, did not notice any loss of quality. However, should an untamed vine become diseased, it can be very tricky to clear out the diseased plant to limit the spread of the pathogen. You can also contain them in a cage, but the flimsy wire cages that are available in most nurseries are not strong enough. We make ours from 4-inch remesh, found in hardware stores.
I can't make the sale; may I come earlier?
We are sorry, but we cannot allow customers to come before the sale date. In past years, there were plenty of seedlings left, so folks were able to come and pick out something they would like to grow. Those sales are by appointment; contact the grower at the address below.
I want to know in advance about next year's sale; will you email me?
Yes, we have an email list which we do not share with anyone. You will hear from us in the months leading up to the sale to let you know how the seedlings are coming along. We may send an earlier email at seed-buying time to ask about your preferences and one late in the season to ask what you grew and what your results were. Email the grower at the address below to ask to be on the list.
Do you ever have seedlings left over? What do you do with them?
After a week or so, when we are sure that anyone who wants to has had a chance to purchase seedlings, we donate them to groups who grow fresh produce for food pantries, or who teach clients to grow something for themselves. So far, we have been honored to support such groups as Columbia Baptist Church, The Gardeners' SHARE, and others. It is a privilege to be able to pass along our seedlings to these folks. And in our area, food pantry clients are getting heirloom tomatoes; how cool is that?
What are you raising money for?
Local FIRST Robotics teams, created and supported by Herndon Robotics. Last year, we funded two teams, and are ready to do more. We need more coaches and mentors. Contact us for more information on how you can help coach a team.
Um, okay, what is FIRST Robotics?
Wait, seriously, you haven't heard of FIRST?
Right. FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, is a non-profit organization that teaches kids from ages 6 to 18, all over the world, that science is fun, accessible, and that they can solve real problems using teamwork, creativity, research, and hard work.
Each year, our kids get a new set of challenges to work on. They build and program robots, do research, suggest solutions to a problem, and cheer each other on. They are judged on how well their robots perform, how they present their ideas, and how well they work together as a team. They learn how to compete with Gracious Professionalism, and they have tons of fun.
Our 2010 robot was programmed to recognize black and white panels. The black panels were turned up and the white ones left alone.
The Stingers compete in the Teamwork portion at the 2010 DC regional competition.
Thank you for supporting our teams.
We have a FIRST team and want to do a seedling fundraiser. Can you help?
Yes, you can use Robot Tomatoes to help promote your sale. These sales not only help fund your team, they are a great way to spread the word about FIRST to your community. We would like to share what we have learned with other teams. Contact the grower at the address below.