Mail Order Tomato Seedlings

Get delicious, heirloom tomato seedlings delivered to your door.

| April/May 2006

You can explore the wonderful world of great-tasting heirloom tomatoes by purchasing tomato seedlings from a mail-order company. Several companies now offer varieties that pair superior flavor with unique shapes and colors that probably aren’t available at your local garden center. You can choose from hundreds of varieties — usually grown organically — and have them shipped directly to your garden gate.

Thanks in part to the utter tastelessness of most supermarket tomatoes, interest in great-tasting homegrown tomatoes is booming. But before you turn to the mail-order sources discussed here, be sure to check with your local Extension office and at your farmer’s market to see if any nearby growers are offering tomato transplants. If not, order from the nearest company listed in “Tomato Plants by Mail” later in this article.

All in Good Taste

“We want tomatoes that taste so good that when you bite into them, you hum,” says Cindy Martin, co-owner of The Tasteful Garden in Heflin, Ala., a pioneer in the mail-order tomato seedling business. Cindy and her husband, George, grow and ship 30,000 tomato seedlings each year, from February through July. Like many other mail-order companies, The Tasteful Garden always ships plants early in the week so they never spend a weekend in transit, thus minimizing trauma to the plants.

Waiting until late spring to buy and plant tomatoes also can lead to better crops, according to David Baldwin, owner of The Natural Gardening Co. in Petaluma, Calif. “I never advise customers to be early birds,” Baldwin says, “because seedlings grown in intense sunlight during April and May have a denser cell structure that makes them sturdy and strong. A perfect plant for shipping stands 8 to 10 inches tall, but the best readiness indicator is the thickness and strength of the stem.”

Receiving big, sturdy plants of richly flavored ‘Black Krim’ or fruity ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes is especially meaningful to gardeners who have lost their early plantings to unexpected catastrophes.

Organic From the Start

Unlike typical garden centers, most mail-order companies that specialize in tomato seedlings rely on organic methods to produce vigorous plants. For example, both Territorial Seed Co. in Cottage Grove, Ore., and The Tasteful Garden mix worm castings into custom soil mixtures for their tomato seedlings, then use organic fertilizers to support steady growth. You may be able to find organically grown tomato seedlings at your local farmer’s market, but most commercially raised seedlings get their start in fumigated soil and are then fed a steady diet of synthetic chemicals. The difference is important to any gardener who wants to start out with the best.

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