Even after all these years in the garden I am awestruck that a tiny seed, not even ¼ inch long, can not only grow into an eight foot tall plant, but also provide us with something so incredibly delicious and healthy to eat!
Growing anything from seed is a magical experience. Growing tomatoes from seed provides the magic and allows you to grow some special varieties that you won’t find at most nurseries or seedling sales (there’s no way they can have them all)!
To start tomatoes from seed you need to have seeds, growing medium, light, a warm place for the seeds to grow, water and some plastic bags.
The growing medium for seed should not be garden soil or potting soil. Don’t use anything that has fertilizer in it. I use a mixture of equal parts peat, perlite and vermiculite. These ingredients are all easily found at the local nursery.
The growing medium needs to be kept consistently warm, about 85 degrees. It needs to remain moist but not soggy. Once I plant the seeds ¼ inch into the medium I cover the seedling trays loosely with plastic but do not tie or close the bags. They should not be airtight.
When the seedlings emerge I introduce light. Keep the light about 4 inches from the tiny leaves. Fertilizing begins when the second set of leaves, called true leaves appear. In about 30 days the seedlings will be ready to moved to larger containers.
Before planting outdoors you want to harden off the seedlings, exposing them to increasing amounts of sun and wind.
Seedlings can be transplanted into the ground once the soil temperature is consistently about 55 degrees and daytime air temperatures remain between 70 – 75 degrees.
An Update about Tomato Seeds….
Did you start your tomato seeds yet? If not, you still have time but not time to waste. Tomato Sseds that you start now should be ready to plant outside in 6 – 8 weeks. That sounds like perfect timing, especially if your climate will allow you to begin planting in the next couple of weeks. Spreading out your planting means you’ll be harvesting tomatoes for a longer period and that sounds really good to me!
When your tomato seedlings first emerge they’ll have two tiny leaves called cotyledon. In just a short amount of time they will develop a second set of leaves, called “true leaves”. Begin feeding once a week with diluted liquid organic fertilizer.
When seedlings are about 1 ½” tall they are ready to be potted up into 4″ containers with organic potting soil. (This will be in about 30 days.)
You”ll need to “harden off” the seedlings before moving them outdoors. Start the process by moving the seedlings outside for a few hours every morning. Pick a spot where they get a few hours of gentle sunlight and are sheltered from the worst weather extremes (eastern exposures are great). Don’t take them outside if temperatures threaten to drop much below 60ºF or if rain is imminent. After a few hours, move them back inside. Extend their time outside a few hours at a time over the next two weeks. At the same time, gradually increase their exposure to full sun and the elements. It’s not uncommon at this stage to find your seedlings bending over as they adjust to harsher conditions outside. If they start looking sad, reduce the time outside or stake them up with bamboo skewers.
Transplant outside when day time temperatures are consistently between 70-75 degrees and night time doesn’t dip below 55.