When I was growing up one of the highlights that I remember was working out in our garden. The only garden I really remember is the one we had when we lived in this huge mansion-type house when I was around 10 years old, and I specifically remember all of the pumpkins we harvested one particular fall. I absolutely love gardening, but I love pumpkins even more. With that being said, let’s talk about growing tomato plants from seeds, since it has nothing to do with pumpkins, and I just wanted to let you know I love pumpkins.
I think most people agree that growing your own food results in better tasting, cheaper meals for you and your family. When I was growing up, we always bought small tomato plants, and just transplanted them when it got warmer. It never dawned on me that we could just plant seeds instead, and lower our costs even more. Since we are buying a house later this week, the wife and I are actively planning out what we are going to plant in our garden, and also beginning the process of planting seeds that need to be planted before the last frost. For now, this includes tomatoes, but we will be planting peppers in about a week, so stay tuned for that.
Step 1 – Determine When You’ll Plant
The challenge with growing tomatoes from seed, comes from having to plant them indoors before they are ready to plant outdoors, and judging how early to plant them. If you plant too early, you may have a more difficult time transplanting them, since they’ll be bigger and they will take up a lot of room in your house. Too late, and you won’t have as many tomatoes to harvest. Unless you live in a warm enough climate, you cannot just plant seeds outdoors and expect a bountiful crop. The general rule of thumb that I’ve read is that you should wait until around 6 to 8 weeks before the last risk of frost.
What We Are Doing
We planted ours this past weekend, and so are looking to plant toward the end of April, which may be pushing it a little bit for northern Illinois. The climate zone for the area we are moving too is different from where we are living now, though, so we will see. We may just be transplanting large tomato plants, so stay tuned.
Step 2 – Determine What You’ll Plant
Steps 1 and 2 could probably be done interchangeably, since they are done basically at the same time. There are many different types tomato plants, ranging from hybrid, to non-hybrid, all with different textures, water-consistencies, and colors. Spacing is important with tomato plants because they can grow to enormous sizes if properly cared for. Make sure that you have adequate room in your garden.
What We Are Planting
We decided to go with beefsteak and large red cherry tomatoes, and are planning on 7 of each plant. We are hoping to save the seeds of one of each tomato, but aren’t sure if we have actual heirloom seeds, which are non-hybrid seeds. The packages don’t say hybrid, but they don’t say organic either, so we’ll find out. Hybrid seeds will not germinate. Depending on which variety you choose to plant, spacing will vary. Read the back of your seed packet for details. Both of our varieties need to have 3 feet between plants on all sides.
Step 3 – Buy The Materials
Next, you’ll want to go out and buy what you need.
There are types of soil specialized for starting seeds. Seed starting soil is different, in that it is not as compact as topsoil or even potting soil, so it contains more air for the seeds, and makes it easier for the seeds to break free from the soil. Also, if you use regular top soil, you run the risk of introducing disease. Most seed starting soil is made up of sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. We purchased Planter’s Pride Seed Starter Mix, which is a first, so hopefully we’ll get some good results.
Depending on when you’ll transplant (aka: how big your plants will get), you will need at least two types of containers. The first container you should invest in is a long, rectangular shallow planter, preferably with a plastic cover. The plastic cover will retain moisture, which is essential for seed germination. The second container you will need to buy, for each plant, is just a larger, circular or square, container used to hold the seedling when they get bigger. We actually purchased some plantable pots that we’ll just stick in the ground when we transplant.
If you don’t have a long, fluorescent light, you’ll need to invest in this as well. Seedlings require 16-18 hours of direct sunlight, and since they are being started indoors, this can’t be accomplished by setting them in a windowsill. On top of that, seeds need a close light source, in order to keep from becoming thin and weak.
This is an optional buy, and one that we have not made yet. If you decide to fertilize, be careful not to over fertilize. Doing so can cause the plant to grow too rapidly, which will result in a spindly plant.
Step 4 – Plant Your Seeds
Once you have everything bought and paid for, it’s time to plant your seeds.
1. Soak the soil in warm water, and allow to drain adequately.
2. Place soil in long, flat container until you have it filled up.
3. Place seeds into soil, 1/2 inch apart, and 1/4 inch deep. You really just have to cover them.
4. Place the cover on top of your container so that moisture is maintained. You should see the cover fog up after a while. No watering will be necessary until after the first week to week and a half.
5. Put the container in a warm place, out of the sun, where the temp is maintained between 65F to 70F. The warmer the better, but anything above 90F will be detrimental to germination.
6. After about 7-10 days, you should see seeds sprouting!
Tomato Photo by photon.