It may seem a little late to some gardeners, but we are just starting our tomato seeds here at the office. It’s not difficult or expensive to start a few seeds inside. Here’s a few pointers for starting tomatoes:
Choose a variety that grows well in your area. Ask a fellow gardener, the farmer at the local market, or fall in love with one you’ve read about in the latest magazine.
After you’ve chosen the variety and purchased the seed, be a realist when it comes to how many plants you’ll need. Most gardeners don’t have room for 25 of every variety they would like to grow. So start a few seeds of 3-4 different tomatoes (share the rest of the seed with others or save them for next year).
The containers you use to start seeds in can be anything from an old egg carton to self-watering seed starting systems with fully integrated heat mats, lights and fans.
Purchase a good seed starting, soil-less mix (don’t use garden soil) and moisten it before you put it into the containers. Fill each container to the top and gently tamp it down.
Place one seed in each container or cell, and push the seed into the soil about 1/8″. Seeds need to have contact with the soil to germinate so water gently from the top or tamp the soil lightly.
Tomatoes germinate best with an 80° soil temperature and most of us don’t keep the heat that high in our homes. If you can put the seed tray on top of your hot water heater or radiator that works quite well or use an old heating pad on a timer. If you can’t provide a warm spot, the seeds will still germinate; they will just take a few more days.
Keep the soil moist but not wet.
Once the seeds sprout, they will need light, lots of it, 12-16 hours of sun. Although the days are getting longer, plan on providing additional light with florescent bulbs or grow lights. A bright sunny window might seem like enough, but soon you’ll see your seedlings leaning and stretching toward the light.
Once the first “true leaves” appear, it’s time to start feeding your plants. One half dilution of a water soluble fertilizer should do fine to start.
Remember to “pet” (yes, pet) your seedlings. Plants need toughen up before you transplant them outside. If you pet them regularly, the cells in their stems will become stronger.
Your tomato plants might need transplanting into larger pots before the weather is warm enough to plant them outside. Consider this possibility before you start your seeds; where are you going to put all those 4 inch pots if May 15th is too cool to plant?
We will keep you up to date with the progress of our seedlings and provide more detailed information each week on how to keep your seedlings thriving.