If you'll all remember that when homeschooling, sometimes you just read the stuff a half hour before the lesson, and you're not quite sure yourself exactly how the experiment will turn out. Although some of the tomatoes on my list are from last year, I got them started too late and the bitter cold came before I got many of them to ripen. The Wonder Lights never germinated last year at all. They haven't germinated this year yet either. They may simply take longer to germinate--or they may be a bad batch. I didn't order a new pack. My experience is that seeds are good for at least a couple of years before they lose viability.
My goal is to find a half-dozen varieties that I really love and just grow those, but seeds are cheap and it's an awful lot of fun (if you really love tomatoes) to experiment.
I can tell you this, Dy--you have a longer growing season there and absolutely no reason not to have a good time with tomatoes. I buy from this guy and these people. I've had greater reliability from the heirloom seed people, but they also have heirloom everything, so they have fewer choices for tomatoes in general. I would head out to Lowe's this weekend and get two or three of the long window trays with the little peat pots. Order some tomato and pepper seeds (go with the italian varieties of sweet peppers and whatever flips your cookie for the hot peppers), rehydrate the little peat pots, and plant two or three seeds in each. Put the lid that comes with the kit on top and set in the sun. Keep a corner cracked to let air circulate. That's all you should need. Once the seedlings have true leaves and you can start to see the roots looking crowded, peel off the netting carefully and transplant into a bigger pot with regular potting soil. You can buy peat pots, but I just make pots out of newspaper and a stapler. It's really easy and when you go to put the plant in your garden, you don't need to do anything. The newspaper will rapidly decompose and the roots will grow right through it. Find out from your local extension office when your last frost date is and you can transplant after that date. (Look up info on "harding off" first.)
An heirloom seed isn't necessarily organic, and isn't necessarily not a hybrid. The Mortgage Lifter is a good example of this. It's a hybrid of at least four (maybe 5) different varieties--however, it's considered heirloom when the tomato has stabilized to the point where its seed consistently reproduces itself with the desired characteristics. This means also that the seed has been around for awhile, but I don't think there's a set number of years that an heirloom has to be around to be an heirloom. What it is NOT is genetically modified in any way. You can go to Dave's Garden to look for feedback on different varieties. Here's one for the Mortgage Lifter.
This year since I have a bigger plot, I bought LOTS of varieties, of which I plan to actually plant maybe half of them. I wrote the name of each on an index card and I'm trying to take notes on what each variety does.
Up here it's still too cold to just put the seeds in front of the window. So I have flourescent tubes above the seedlings and a plant heating pad under the seedlings. The peppers can take up to three weeks to germinate, so they're usually the first ones to start. I start onions, too--although that's less important. They can be direct seeded.
Where you are, you can go ahead and put spinach, radishes, and lettuce seeds in the ground. You can put Smidge in charge of the radishes since they're fast growers and he can harvest them in only three weeks after planting.