Heirloom tomatoes (Lycopersicon lycopersicum) are becoming more popular as the concept of growing our own organic food grows in popularity. Unusual varieties that were once commonplace with our ancestors gave way to commercial-type tomatoes that are capable of producing larger quantities. But if you are looking for something unusual that you can grow on your own, you can get seeds for tomatoes with names such as beefsteak, Cherokee purple and hillbilly and keep them going year after year by saving the seeds from each crop you produce.
Purchase a packet of heirloom seeds from your local nursery or mail-order catalog. Most packets contain enough seeds to grow 25 to 75 plants, so a little will go a very long way for the home gardener.
Place a layer of potting soil in a flat of gardening tray cups, filling about halfway up. With your thumb, gently press the soil down to make it more compact.
Put four of the seeds in each cup and space them apart. With your hands or a spoon, carefully cover the seeds with another layer of potting soil. Lightly press the top layer of soil to secure the seeds within the soil. With a spray bottle of water, gently mist each seed cup until the soil is very moist.
Cover the flat of cups with the plastic lid. This will help keep the soil warm and moist by providing a greenhouse effect for the seeds to sprout. When the plants reach about 1 inch in height, check to make sure you haven't accidentally planted too many seeds in one cup. If there are more than four plants or they are too close together, pull the excess sprout to prevent the roots from choking each other. It will take approximately one to two weeks for the seeds to germinate. After eight to 10 weeks, transfer the plants to larger cups until they can get a harder, sturdier stem. This usually takes another four weeks. In the meantime, keep them warm and moist and allow plenty of sunlight. Discontinue use of the plastic lid.
Transfer the now strong tomato plants from the second cups to the final gardening space. This space should allow for plenty of sunlight and proper water drainage. Start by digging a hole deep enough to adequately cover the root systems. Fill the empty spaces in the hole with potting soil and gently press into place. Repeat with each plant and space at least 12 inches apart.
Water your new plants every other day. One tomato plant needs 3 gallons of water per week total, so pay attention to how much water you provide each time. If it rains, wait until the soil is almost dry before watering again. Fertilizer is usually only required one to two times during the growing season based on how well the plant is thriving. Only allow two to three branch shoots to grow from your plant. Snip or cut them off as soon as they appear. If you miss one for more than a week, it's best to let it stay. You can expect your first edible tomato in 12 to 14 weeks depending on weather conditions. Tomatoes ripen best by mid-July in most areas.