Starting Tomatoes

Tomatoes

  • Getting started 
      • Choose Good Seeds
      • Reputable  seed companies,  preferably organically  grown, and/or safe seed pledge  
      • Shared seeds from ‘seed savers’ 
      • Your own tried and true seeds. Seeds can be saved for years with good results, a cool, dry, dark environment is a proven method.  Many seeds last decades.
  • The Right Materials & Right time-4 to 6 weeks prior to last frost
      •  Clean pots and trays. Wash old pots in 9 parts water, one part bleach and rinse.
      •  Sterile growing medium,  starter soils, coco peat(coir) or other commercial seedling kits, I prefer organic, specifically coco peat.
      •  A sunny location; A window with lots of direct light, or  a fluorescent starter rack. The instructions for this project will be included in the future. Email us for details prior to posting.
  • Lets Get Dirty!!
      • Setup
        • You will need a table, gloves, pots with a non-draining bottom liner trays,  water access and patience.
        •   Set up as many trays as you think you can    handle.  You can always give away extra plants          to a neighbor or friend.
        •   Pre-dampen your soil material.  Fill pots in the        trays to just under 3/4 full.  When  you water you do not want to overfill and flood your  seed out of the pot and into the reservoir tray.
      • Execute
        •  Plant one seed per cell.  If seeds are                                questionable,  plant 2 per cell, and either  thin out and remove one seedling or transplant it into its own container.   Add a thin layer of    planting medium on top, no greater than  1/4″.
        •  Keep pots  moist until seedlings germinate. Cooler conditions,  such as a cellar will take longer, up to several weeks.  Spray bottles come in handy for dampening top.
        • If you are using a light rack, adjust the height to as close to the seedlings as possible, It will prevent them from becoming leggy.  Adjust as they grow taller.
        • If using a window,  frequently turn the trays, in order that  bending can be minimized.
        • After 3 or more sets of leaves emerge you may pinch back the top, to promote bushier growth and avoid legginess.
        • Add soil to the top of the pot as space permits,  you can fill all the way up to the bottom sets of leaves.  Root growth will occur along the entire stem.
        • Fertilize with a very weak solution of fish emulsion only if yellowing occurs,  I would not recommend fertilizer until the plants have been acclimated into the garden.
    •   Time to Plant
        • When seedlings are approximately 6″ tall and  danger of last frost has passed, you may plant.  The best way to transition plants for acclimation is to have placed plants outside during the day, ‘hardening-off’, and exposing them to weather.  Each day leave plants outside a little longer than the previous for about two weeks before planting.  Many nursery plants that have already been exposed and will be hardy enough. The first few days of ‘hardening-off’ , the plants may act a little weepy,  but will perk up when warmed.  Do not  try on days with pounding rain, wind or dramatic temperature drop.  If very hot, partially shade from sun.   
      • How to plant?
        • Consensus on tomato plants is that you plant in rows 3 feet apart and 24-36″ apart form each other. I grow them closer due to space constraints.  Also anticipate need for caging and whether or not the plant is ‘determinate’ ( low height) or ‘indeterminate’  which can grow as long as 15 to 20 feet.
        • Trench or bury method? Neither method is wrong, both work well, I prefer burying.        
        • Trenching can be good if your soil is rocky or hard packed, anytime when good depth cannot be achieved.                                                               With your spade  carve a trench at least 4 inches deep and  as long as your plant is tall, less 2-3″s. Remove several sets of bottom leaves, make sure you leave at least 3 sets of leaves on top.  Many people pinch them off the day before to allow the main stem to dry and  scar.  Lay the tomato  with the top away from you, with the daytime sun to your back,  and cover with soil leaving the plant head angled out of the soil. Within  a couple of days the top will straighten. Remember when caging or staking, be careful not to penetrate where the root is located  in the soil. Your root stem system will run on the entire length of that now buried stem.   
        • Burying is my preferred method,  it allows the plant to stay cool under hot conditions, and find moisture when it is parched.                                     Strip the bottom sets of leaves as in the trench method.  Dig a hole as deep as the tomato stem that is leafless. I also cage at this time. I place the cage over the open hole, secure it in place with pins if it is an enclosed type.  I then drop the tomato  from the top opening of the cage into the hole.  With an open weave cage you can toss the soil in and cover.
        • WATER LIGHTLY!  DO NOT DROWN.  Watering lightly as soil drys, will aid in root growth. Do not fertilize at least for the first week, until the tomato plant is ‘happy’ in the garden. Roots will form rapidly  along all the micro hairs of the stem that is buried.

OOPS it’s going to get unseasonably cold, what do I do?  Be prepared for an unseasonal low.  A tarp, blanket or sheet will do.  If you already have cages or stakes in place, they will hold the covering from damaging your plants.  I have supported a tarp or sheet with lawn chairs at opposite corners. If you have large pots you can cover individual plants. If cold is coming,  cover as soon as you are able.  **Caution do not cover a plant with a black tarp or black pot in hot sunlight.