The cold and snow from the past few days has got me thinking even more about starting my garden. I have a lot of other things that I would like to do. For instance, I have to get my fruit trees in their permanent locations, and I have perennial plants that need to be put in the ground as well however, with more than six inches of snow still on the ground, those projects will have to wait until the snow is melted. That should be happening this coming week, but until then, planting indoors seems to be on the agenda.
I am Wanting Lots and Lots of Tomatoes
That’s why I am planting tomatoes from seed. Tomatoes are very versatile. Tomatoes can be eaten raw in salads, on sandwiches and just eaten right off the vine. They can be canned into tomato sauce, tomato juice, tomato paste, salsa, with peppers and onions, and plain canned tomatoes. Green, tomatoes can be made into relishes and pickles. I never seem to be able to grow enough tomatoes.
Last year, planted several varieties of tomatoes from seed and bought some others as plants. The plants I purchased had thick stems and were about 8-10 inches tall. Because I had moved to my new location, many of the taller plants that I had grown from seed had died and all I had were small tomato plants that were only a couple inches tall. I thought that there was no way that they would ever grow. However, they did. Actually, what surprised me was that the small tomato plants took off in my garden almost immediately whereas the taller, store-bought plants did not do as well, and the homegrown plants actually overtook the other ones.
I didn’t do as well with my tomatoes as I would have liked, but this year I plan to do a better job with them. More on that later when I plant them in the garden. For now, though, let’s go over planting seeds for growing transplants.
What Tomato Seeds to Plant
Planting tomato transplants from seeds to plant in my garden later will save me money and lets me choose varieties that are not often found at plant nurseries. Because I save seeds from tomato plants that I grew last year, I use only heirloom or open pollinated seeds. This way the tomatoes that I grow will grow true to the variety. I have several types of tomatoes that I will be growing this year. This first batch of tomatoes is the Beefsteak variety. This variety is an indeterminant which means that the plant will grow and produce throughout the season.
Preparing the Soil
Next, I mixed my soil. My soil mix is primarily garden soil and vermiculite. The reason I am using the vermiculite was because a friend gave it to me, and I never like wasting anything.
I put this soil into growing trays or small containers: Recycled or biodegradable trays are best. I use a plastic recycled planting tray and place recycled pots inside them. Later I will transplant the plants into individual containers so that I simply place the whole thing into the soil. As an alternative, you can use an egg carton. For the later transplants, I like using Dixie cups.
Some people like to use a glass or metal spray bottle for watering the seeds, but you can repurpose an empty household bottle. Just make sure to pick one that never contained harsh chemicals, as the residue can damage your delicate plants. I personally use a one cup measuring cup and pour small amounts of water over the soil after planting.
Popsicle sticks make handy plant markers and that is what I am using here. These markers are like name tags for your plants, which comes in handy when you’re planting different varieties. Of course, if you’re only planting one type of seed, they’re not necessary. I have a supply of them so I will definitely be using them.
Putting Seeds in the Soil
I start my tomato seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost date indoors. Doing so allows my plants to go through the whole germination and into the growth process and be ready to bear fruit when warm weather arrives. If you’re planning to keep your tomato plants indoors or in a greenhouse, this is not an issue, so you can start any time.
I placed 2-3 seeds per container to make up for any that may not germinate. I spaced them with equal distance between each other.
I then sprinkled a little extra potting soil on top of the seeds and gently patted the surface to make it smooth.
Next, I sprayed my seeds using my spray bottle until the soil is moist but not soaked. This requires about 4-5 squirts. Once my seeds turn into plants, I’ll be able to use a small watering can.
I mark one of the popsicle sticks and write the names of the tomato varieties on the stick and note the dated sown on my gardening calendar.
Finally, I cover the planting tray with the plastic and place them onto the growing shelf.
Tomatoes love warmth, so I placed the planting containers in the sunny window in my living room. During the germination process, I will keep the tomatoes warm and moist. That is why I cover the plants with plastic to ensure the soil stays moist and the seeds stay warm. Keep lights above and a heat mat under tomatoes until they germinated.
Grow lights are highly recommended. Because the lights can be placed only a couple of inches above the seedlings, it prevents the leggedness (long, skinny stems caused from insufficient sunlight of a window). The lights help tomatoes develop stockier stems and bushy leaves.
In addition to lights, rotating my plants so that they get equal amounts of sunlight will prevent them from leaning in one direction.
Growing the Seedlings
When the first true leaves appear, gently brush I’ll gently brush my hands over their leaves a few times per day. This action simulates wind and helps to strengthen the plant’s stems. (If you smoke, be sure to wash your hands before doing this as tobacco mosaic can disease your tomatoes.)
Once your tomato plants have at least three or four sets of true leaves, they’re ready to be hardened off. More about planting tomatoes in the garden later. I will probably be transplanting these tomatoes into larger containers before putting them permanently in the garden, however because this way I can develop a better root system before planting outdoors.
I planted eight varieties of herbs this week too. More about herbs later! I hope you’re having a good week! Do you plant your own seeds for transplants? I would love to hear about it!