Friday, December 1, 2017

TOMATOES! by seed

So, if you are going to plant tomatoes next spring consider starting with seeds.  So, you ask, just why do I want to grow tomatoes from seed?  Aren’t there plenty of plants for sale come spring?  Absolutely there are, however for the best variety including Heirlooms, you should try growing them yourself.  As, I said, seed catalogues are in the mail now.  I’ve always used “Totally Tomatoes” but there are many choices out there.  And, here speakith the voice of experience - it's easy to get carried away buying tomato seeds.  While not every seed will germinate and not every seedling survive, unless you plan on having 40+ tomato plants, you might want to get only two or three varieties.

Decisions – Heirloom or Hybrid; Determinate or Indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes are varieties that grow to a fixed mature size and ripen all their fruit in a short period, usually about 2 weeks. Once this first flush of fruit has ripened, the plant will begin to die back and will set little to no new fruit.

Indeterminate varieties will continue to set and ripen fruit throughout the growing season, until the plants are killed off by frost or in the case here, heat and humidity. They will give you a slow and steady supply of tomatoes, rather than one large harvest. However, they tend to start ripening a little later in the season than determinate varieties, because they spend a good amount of time simply growing tall.

Therefore, here where I live, I look for Indeterminate varieties for our long spring and summer and Determinate for fall since the growing season is shorter.

Got your seeds?  OK.  First of all, you will need to start them inside under a light or in a greenhouse.  I would be starting the seeds in December or very early January (because, we can plant as early as mid-February) in order to give them plenty of time to reach the right size for planting in the ground.  Your transplant date will be after the last hard freeze in your area. Back the date up 6-8 weeks and that's your start date.   What about a light frost?  Well, you can mulch and cover the young plants.  

Next, you need (1) some sort of containers and the choices are
endless.  You can use peat pots or pellets, seed starter kits, trays, yogurt cups or egg cartons – any small container (3 inches deep is good) with a drainage hole.  (2) Chose a good potting or seed starter soil mix.  (3) Labels – the best thing to use is an old thin slatted venetian blind (cut the individual slats down to size, use a pencil to write - lasts longer in the weather).  (4) Water.  (5) And most importantly, light.  Keep in mind that the warmer your seedlings are kept and the more light they are given, the faster they will grow.

Dampen the potting soil and then add it to the container.  You want the soil thoroughly wet but not dripping.  Fill your containers.  Plant 3 or 4 seeds into a container and gently push just under the soil – about a ¼ inch.  Put your containers somewhere warm and check them every day or two.  I like to place my containers inside a Ziploc bag to create a mini greenhouse and remove them once they’ve
got their second set of true leaves.  Tomato seeds germinate fairly quickly, usually 5-10 days.  You can start feeding them after their true leaves appear.  I don’t because I assume the seeds are getting all they need from the soil I use, plus I’m lazy.  Keep your seedlings close to the grow lights and rotate the plants if they seem to be growing or leaning in one direction.

When the seedlings are 3 inches tall and have a couple of sets of true leaves, you can repot them into slightly larger containers.  What I have done is to move the peat pellets (my choice of starter container) to a tray with 2-inch sides.  I set the pellets in the tray and add soil and let them grow.  Lazy!

When you’re ready to transfer them to the garden (about 8-10 inches tall), plant the seedlings deep, leaving only the top 3-4 inches above the soil.  Helps to produce a stronger stem and better root system.  You are going to want a tomato cage for your plants.  Or, you can stake and tie them though I have found a TALL tomato cage is best.

I like this look but have never had
that many ladders!

Probably a little more next …..

Take care

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