In the Garden: Starting Tomatoes

Starting seeds indoors allows you extra time to get seeds in the ground, allows you to grow the specific varieties you like that are often not widely available and, if you’re disciplined, can be cheaper than buying started plants.

For a primer on growing seeds indoors, including a planting calendar, you can’t do better than the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

If you have tomatoes on your mind, take this advice from OAK keynote speaker Ira Wallace, author, seed saver, organic gardener and worker/owner of the cooperatively-owned Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. She recommends planting a workhorse tomato, a gourmet tomato, and a sauce tomato if your garden space allows.

Paste/sauce varieties and smaller tomatoes withstand the humidity and heat of the midsummer gardens better than other tomatoes, she says. Her newest favorite is the Alston Everlasting, which is bigger than a cherry tomato, resistant to heat and keeps producing long after much else in the summer garden has faded. “It can be sliced into 3 slices for a sandwich, it cooks well and you can quarter it and have a nice size for salads,” says Ira.

Her current favorite gourmet variety is Cherokee Purple. It’s not prolific, but the tomatoes it does yield are luscious, juicy and flavorful. It’s very dramatic looking, and makes a beautiful presentation on a platter of mixed sliced tomatoes.

There are scores of paste/sauce tomatoes to choose from, including yellow, orange and famous Italian San Marzano. The gold standard for making sauce is the Amish Paste tomato, which has enough juice and flavor to serve fresh.

The farmer’s almanac can get specific when recommending the best time to start tomato seeds indoors -- Louisville and Lexington, for instance, differ by a week. But, in general, Kentucky gardeners are looking at mid to late February as the best time to start seeds indoors, and late April to early May for transplanting outside.

--Sarah Fritschner, MMO Editor

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