Tomatoes are arguably (or maybe not) the most popular home-grown vegetable. But the volume of advice about how to grow them from seed is mind-boggling.
This is mine. I start them way too early, and then stress till the plants are done bearing. Simple, uncomplicated.
No, it’s the opposite of simple. I’ve realized that starting tomato seedlings requires self-control first, and that’s the hardest thing when you’ve been locked indoors for those long months. Planting too early just means tall, leggy seedlings that don’t do as well as those tiny replacements you end up buying at the nursery.
So patience is number one. 4 to 6 weeks before last frost…just like I’ve been reading on the backs of seed packets for 30 years. That doesn’t mean 12-14 weeks, oddly. Go figure.
I allow myself a couple of plants started early that get put out under two layers of frost protection. These always bear the first fruits, but it’s a very risky business, not suited for a main crop.
The details. I start with two seeds in each little six-pack of starting mix. When they have their first set of true leaves they’re transplanted into 4″ individual pots, stems buried right up to the leaves. Unlike most plants, tomatoes thrive when their stems are buried, because the stems sprout roots.
Half strength nitrogen fertilizer like fish emulsion is great at transplanting time. But too much nutrifying isn’t helpful with tomato seedlings. A light touch. Curb your enthusiasm.
After a few weeks when the stems get tallish, they get a final up-pot, this time to cut-off half gallon milk jugs filled with extra special soil, goosed with vermicompost. Again buried almost up to the first leaves to get nice, sturdy stems.
The whole time they’re under shop lights about 14 hours a day, with a little fan blowing a few times each day, to test and challenge them like nature would. Kind of like making your kids do the dishes. I was never able to do this when I worked nine to five. Maybe a split timer on the fan too?
Then they’re hardened off gradually, making sure that they don’t see direct sun for too long right away. They’ll get sunburned, seriously. I know.
That’s how I grow tomato seedlings.
I’m not an expert, just a guy. I really believe that even the most inexperienced gardener can teach me.
How do you grow yours? Give me some hints.