Monday, January 12, 2009

Tomato Seed Starting Tips

I love the garden, and I love gardening. I feel about gardening the way I feel about stirring a pot of soup, canoeing in the rain, singing in a large group, holding a child in my arms, or swimming in the dark. It makes me feel human. ~Neenah Ellis

Depending on where you live, it's time to start your tomato seeds indoors. You can grow heirloom varieties in so many varied colors, shapes and sizes that it's worth the extra effort. Seeds will keep for about 3 years if you store them in a cool place, so you don't have to use an entire packet. Remember that some seeds may not germinate, or the seedlings may be weak, so plant extra, and you can thin them to save the strong ones.

You will want to start your seeds 8 weeks before the last frost in your area. Sow the seeds 1/4 inch deep and 1 inch apart in a sterile potting mix. Moisten the soil an hour or two before you start planting. Also, make sure you've washed and rinsed your flat or container in hot water. Cover the seeds lightly after pushing them in 1/4 inch. Either place the container in a plastic bag or cover with plastic wrap. The seeds will germinate in a week or so if the temperature is about 75 degrees-longer if it's cooler. A sunny window works well if you have room to place the containers there, otherwise you can use florescent lights and keep the room warm. One tidbit I discovered is that you need to keep tomato seedlings away from ALL natural gas. Don't place them near a gas stove or furnace. Even a tiny amount can kill young plants.

Once the seeds germinate and sprout keep the temperature around 70 degrees, remove the plastic and water regularly. When the second set of leaves appear on your seedlings transplant them to 4" peat pots, planting them a little deeper than they had been- you can also use yogurt containers or small pots. If they seem a little spindly to you then plant them quite deep-almost up to the leaves. Give the seedlings as much sun or light as possible. If you are using florescent lights keep them about 6 inches from the plants, turning on for about 18 hours or so a day. Don't use a full strength fertilizer-cut it by half or use a natural one. I like using fish water from our fish tank to water. You can buy fish emulsion also.

Frugal notes: you don't need fancy flats with domes on them. You can use egg cartons, salad or bakery container, etc. Just make sure to poke holes for drainage and set them on trays! Drainage is super important before and after they are transplanted.

MORE: Planting information and tomato recipes!

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