Why Start Tomato Seeds?
Starting tomato seeds is easy, fun and almost instantly gratifying. Over the years, I've found short cuts and products that seem to make the job even easier and quicker than ever before. I'm happy to share these discoveries in hopes that more gardeners will be inspired to give it a try. For me, the results have been well worth the effort!
Here are some of the more tangible benefits to tomato seed starting:
--Choose from a limitless selection of sauce varieties
--Be able to jump-start the season and shorten your outdoor growing time
--Get more plants for your money, even with the expense of supplies
--Have total control of the quality of your plants
--Limit chemical exposure to your plants and your body.
Before you start your seeds, you may want to answer a few questions for yourself...
What variety of tomatoes do you want to grow?
You can make sauce from any kind of tomato, but there are varieties of tomatoes designed specifically for sauce. They tend to be more meaty and less watery than standard slicing tomatoes, and with more intense flavor.
One way to choose is to go through seed catalogues and read the descriptions of each sauce variety. I like to select those that sound tasty to me and that
take the least days to maturity. The numbers of days to maturity should be listed for each variety, it refers to the number of days it will take from
planting into the garden to harvesting fruit. This number is especially important for impatient gardeners and those living in an area with a short growing
season. I admit that I am subject to both of these afflictions!
Tomatoes are usually planted about a foot apart, so measure your future tomato sauce bed and figure out about how many plants can fit. Plan on growing a few extra plants for back up and to share, but not too many. Before I had a greenhouse I found it difficult to keep up with more than 24 plants because they outgrew my laundry room and ended up in every windowsill in my home! It was difficult to remember to water or fertilize the ones I didn't see all the time. It’s really easy to go overboard when you start the plants because the seeds are so small and there are so many of them in the package--but don't do it! Keep in mind that your extra seeds will usually keep up to two years if stored in a cool, dry place.
Now that I have a small greenhouse, I grow about 120 plants from seed and as soon as I pot them up into 4 inch pots, they all go into the greenhouse on shelves so I can water and fertilize them consistently all at the same time.
When you have your number of plants figured out, multiply by two and that will be the number of seeds you will need to plant.
When would you start seeds?
I have started tomato seeds as early as February and as late as early May. It usually depends on finding an hour or so when I'm actually at home, however for my area, mid-April seems to be the best time to start them.
When I've started tomato seeds earlier than mid-April, the plants have outgrown their pots well before it's time to plant them in the garden and so I had to pot them up into gallon size pots which take up a lot more space and need a lot more starter planting mix. Plus, they end up being really tall and so it's a bit more work to plant them in the garden.
For a more precise approach, you can look up the last and first frost dates for your area and plug that information into the
seed-starting chart at Organic Gardening Magazine.
This is my lighting/plant shelf, built by my husband to house our seedlings next to the washer and dryer.
Click here for ideas on ways to provide light to seedlings, including instructions for building a set-up like ours.
Step 3: Re-pot seedlings into bigger containers and continue to care for them until they can go into your garden.
Click here for instructions on "potting-up"