The absolute most important vegetable in our homestead garden is the tomato. Our goal each summer is to process and preserve enough tomatoes to get us through the entire year AND have enough to slice and eat fresh AND enough to sell some at the farmers market. Just for our family alone, that means enough tomatoes for a year's worth of salsas, pasta sauce, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, ketchup, and barbecue sauce. I didn't realize how many jars of home canned tomato-based items we would go through in a year until the shelves became desperately empty. It's a sad day when your home-canned goods run out.
Tomatoes have been so important to us, that I have been leery about trying heirloom tomatoes in the garden. I've been scared to count on them 100%. I feared that they might not be as productive. They might not taste as good. They might be more susceptible to diseases and pests. In the past, we haven't had an enormous garden and every inch counted to grow as much for our family as we could. In the past, I have worked full-time in a professional career and didn't have time to dote on tomato plants that were failing to thrive. That was my misinformed perception of growing heirloom tomatoes rather than hybrid tomatoes.
So this year, we have an enormous garden. This year is the first year that we are full-time on the homestead rather than full-time in professional careers. I am still nervous relying entirely on heirloom tomatoes because I have never grown them before. So we are doing an experiment. We are growing 50% heirloom tomatoes and 50% hybrid tomatoes. We are starting them all from seed in the house and will transfer them to the garden after the possibility of frost is gone. We will plant 30 hybrid tomato plants and 30 heirloom tomato plants.
The hybrid tomato varieties we will be growing are Early Girl and Jet Star from Ferry Morse. The heirloom tomato varieties will be Arkansas Traveler, Bonny Best, Rutgers, Black Vernissage, and Riesentraube. All of the heirloom tomato varieties are from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.
The initial part of our hybrid vs. heirloom experiment has yielded surprising results. We started 100 tomato seeds in the house (50 hybrid seeds and 50 heirloom seeds). They were sown on the same day and in they same type of dirt. They received the same type and duration of light and the same amount of water. The heirloom tomatoes were by far the fastest to germinate. Some popped up within 3 days. The hybrid seeds were very slow to germinate. In the end, out of 50 hybrid tomato seeds, 27 successfully germinated. Out of 50 heirloom tomato seeds, 48 successfully germinated.
We ended up doing a second round of sowing tomato seeds because we need at least 30 hybrid tomato seedlings for the garden and only 27 of our initial 50 germinated. We started 30 more hybrid seeds and 10 more heirloom seeds. It's been 16 days on the heat mat, under grow lights, and misting with the spray bottle at least twice per day...and only 10 of 30 hybrid tomato seeds have germinated. But guess what? 9 out of 10 heirloom tomato seeds have germinated and they did so within the first week. Baker Creek, you have us SOLD! In the germination department, that is.
I'll tell you what. We will be happy, happy homesteaders if we can grow ALL of our tomatoes and ALL of our garden fruits and veggies with heirloom seeds. That's food security right there. And that's sustainability.
Coming up later in our heirloom tomato vs. hybrid tomato experiment, we will be sharing how well each transfers into the garden, how vigorously they grow, which bears more fruit and an overall flavor comparison.