After yet another move, it’s planting time again but this year I won’t need to move my plants during the growing season. However, I will be planting a number of items in the trusty containers like last year. Unfortunately, toward the end of the season, my tomatoes were gasping for room in their 5 gallon buckets, so those will be mostly in the ground this year.
So when should you plant your tomato seeds? That depends on a number of things, including your zone and when you want to set them out. When is that you ask? If you put your starts out unprotected, you shouldn’t plant until the danger of frost is over. Given that, if I awaited the frost to be over, we can’t plant out until June. However, planting in June doesn’t ripen many of the late season tomatoes until late September to October. This puts those tender perennials back into the soup of being in danger of an early frost or even an unseasonable rain causing late blight.
To find out when your Last Date Of Frost (LDF) is, you can check on the Old Farmers Almanac website or you can pick up the Old Farmer's Almanac to have some great reading material. Buth they list major cities and their last expected frost dates. I am nearest Seattle, so my last expected frost date is March 10. However, this is not always the case, so I will be setting my starts out in mid to late April, with my Home Made Wall-O-Waters for protection. Given that, my goal to have all my heirloom tomatoes and peppers planted will be April 30th . Most of the peppers will be in 5 gallon buckets as they did beautifully last year. Best year I’ve ever had with peppers. And the deer didn’t like them lol.
Due to the fact that we have such a mild climate here, I want to go into a bit more detail for those of you who have more extremes in temperature changes. If you select your nearest city and find the LDF, count back 6-8 weeks. This is when you should start sowing your seeds indoors.
Many types of seeds can be started early indoors. There are little planting tray greenhouses that you can use. Typically they will hold 25
or 72 plants to get you started. This year, I’ve decided to use the 512 plug tray inserts. What a difference it makes in transplanting those hundreds of little seedlings.
I prefer to make my own soil less mix and fill the cells rather than using the peat pellets as they tend to dry out too quickly. They can also cause problems with root growth unless you remove the netting around them before transplanting. You can also use plastic or paper cups as long as you put a hole in the bottom of them.
Before I get into the pre-sprouting method I use, I'll give you my soil less mix recipe to get your pots prepared for the little starts.
4-6 parts Sphagnum Peat Moss
1 part Perlite
1 part Vermiculite
Or you can choose a prepared seed starting mix
Tomato Sprouts 4 days
Now I actually use two methods of starting my tomato seeds. I suppose, this year, it was more like an experiment, to see which method works best. I’ll go through both methods here for you, due to the fact, I really don’t know which is best, cause they both worked great!
If you don’t have two hundred or more types to grow, and you’re only sprouting 2 to 25 types, pre-sprouting works great! What this means is that I place them on a folded, moist (with a 10:1 ratio of water and hydrogen peroxide) paper towel and wrap my seeds up in it and place it in a small baggie. Then I put it in a warm place (I use a seed starting mat). Each day I take the paper towel out and check for sprouting. Sprouting can take place in as little as 3 days this way or as long as 10 days depending on the variety of seeds.
Once the seeds have sprouted, I carefully place each one in a separate cell of my seed planting tray.
seedlings in soil less mix
Now I know that each sprouted seed will grow.
Okay, now for the method I prefer with large quantities of varieties of tomatoes. It is just a real pain, to have to open several hundred bags each day, to check on the status of those little sprouts.
Seedlings ready for transplanting
Use one of the seedling trays (I prefer the ones with the seperate cells that can be removed so that when I transplant in larger pots/cups, I can use the lower tray to hold those transplants) with separate cells. Fill the tray about 1/4 of the way with a 10 percent mix of water and hydrogen peroxide. Fill each cell with sterile seed starting mix and then firm down. Place 3-6 seeds per cell then sprinkle a thin layer, about 1/4 inch, of the sterile seed starting mix. Use a mister, filled with the same 10 percent hydrogen peroxide mix and spray each cell on the surface. Make sure that each cell is labeled and moist.
Seed Starting Tray
Now place the clear cover over the top of your seedling tray and place on a heating mat. Once those little seedlings start to sprout up, place under a high output grow light.
Either method you try, make sure the seedlings stay moist and place where they will get plenty of light. For this, I use a seedling light rack. After you see the first set of true leaves, your little seedling is ready to be transplanted into a larger pot. At this point, I usually use a very diluted mixture of Liquid Fish Emulsion on my tiny seedlings. They just seem to thrive on it.
After the seedlings reach 6-8 inches tall, they are ready for hardening off. This is basically getting them accustomed to the changes in temperature, wind etc. Though a bit of a pain, hardening off is done by placing the small plants outside during the day and bringing them back indoors at night. This process takes about 7 days.
Now your plants are ready for transplanting into the garden.
If you need any heirloom tomato seeds, check out what we have available and on sale at heirloomtomatopatch.com
There are several ways to extend your Tomato growing season. From Hot Kaps to Wall O Water's. There is even another new type of Wall O Water called Kozy Coats. These are red in color and I've heard great things about them. According to studies, tomato plants do much better with the red spectrum of light. These reflect the red spectrum onto your plants and many folks have had great results. Plus I'll share another method that I've figured out and I'll post that soon.
Many of the books that I have in my library offer great information on temporary methods to start your season several weeks before the typical season. In fact, I've actually over wintered Tomatoes and Tomato cuttings to get a jump start on the following season. I'll offer more info on that a little later.
The method of planting your starts outside is very important. Make sure you have rich organic soil and dig a hole about a foot deep. Place aged manure in the bottom (different types of manure vary on how hot they get. The safest is rabbit, horse, Steer
or Cow Manure. If you use Chicken Manure, it will burn the roots if you don't put a nice barrier between the manure and the roots.) and cover with a layer of soil.
It's important to know that tomatoes will grow roots along their stem anywhere the soil touches it. This enables you to create a very strong root system with your plants. Break the lowest branches off of the tomato plant and place the plant at an angle in the hole. Cover as much of the stem as you can.
Keep your plants well watered and feed with an organic fertilizer about ever other week or so. I use Liquid Fish Emulsion which is nothing more than emulsified fish. Approximately, once a month I sprinkle a little Tomato-Tone around the area above the roots being careful not to allow any to touch the stem of the plant. Then I carefully work it into the surface of the soil. A small hand rake
works well for this.