Almost Time to Start Them!
When to Start Your Tomatoes Indoors:
I recommend you start tomatoes indoors about 8 weeks before they can go outside. So the first question is often: When do you put them outside? A lot of vegetables go out when frost ends. Tomatoes are a bit different. Yes, frost will kill them and you need to wait but cold ground will keep them from growing. They can even turn a bit purple when nights and the ground stay in the 40's.
You really want to time your 8 weeks or so to the date when your earth bed soil and nights are mostly 50 degrees. You can use water rings or black plastic and other tricks to keep the transplants warm and to warm the ground if you want and get an earlier start.
The 8 weeks also includes about a week period of acclimating your indoor transplants to the outdoor. If you don't slowly introduce them to the sun, they can actually get sunburned. Check out the video below.
Starting Tomatoes Indoors - Lighting:
You will need to make sure your tomatoes germinate under intense full light or they will get "leggy". Legginess occurs when the germinated seeds do not get enough light and the plant grows extra long stems as if it is stretching to get to the light. That can make for thin and weak looking transplants.
You want 10-14 hours of intense artificial light. If you use a windowsill, the windowsill must get at least 8 hours of direct sun. That is a window where the sun can actually be seen from the window for 8 hours. I find that type of window is more rare in a house than not.
Indoor lighting requires easily acquired special bulbs. The bulbs should have a high Lumen number and Kelvin number which is explained in the videos. You want the light bulbs to sit 2-3 inches above the seed tray of germinating seeds or 2-3 inches above the leaves of growing tomato transplants.
You want tomato seedling and transplants to get 10 -14 hours of artificial light. More is always better. It does vary based on plant types. Here are some basics on grow-closets, tube lighting and grow-boxes. It is not as expensive as you might think nor are they hard to make.
Starting Tomato Seeds Indoors - Starting Mix and Supplies:
It is best to use a sterile seed starting mix or potting mix. They are very similar. They are typically made from a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and perilite. The ratios tend to be mostly peat moss and then random amounts of the other materials. As long as it is sterile it will work. I make my own and have some videos on it. The key is to not use outdoor soil or packaged products with top soils. If you use non-sterile soils you increase the risk of getting a disease called 'Damping Off'. Start with a sterile mix!
|Cotton Like Fuzz on Stems Called: 'Damping Off Disease'|
If you use a pre-made starting mix they often need to pre-moistened. This helps with water absorption and it can speed up germination. Some mixes come with fertilizers. Here are some videos to help with mixes and supplies.
There is a method I use to pre-pack the seed starting cells and a better way to water. These two things will help with germination and save you time.
Starting Tomatoes Indoors - Planting the Tomato Seeds
Once you have your seed cells set up you can start planting. I always recommend planting more
than 1 seed per cell. You really have to decide how much room you have for tomatoes. In some cases you can grow more than 1 seed per cell and divide them. In other cases, you can thin your cells to hold 1 seedling. It is really up to you. If you are just starting out with starting tomatoes indoors, I would recommend growing 1 seedling per cell.
Starting Tomatoes Indoors - Thinning & Transplanting Seedlings to Cups:
Tomato seeds can take 5-14 days to germinate. They need temperatures at least in the 70's to germinate timely and will germinate faster if warmer. About two weeks after germination you will have to thin the plants to 1 seedling per cell. If you have experience you can actually grow more than 1 seedling in a cell and carefully divide them. As stated, I recommend going with 1 seedling per cell as it reduces the chances of transplant shock when moving them to larger cups.
About 2 weeks after thinning or when the seedling get to 3 or 4 inches tall, they are ready to be transplanted into cups or containers. I recommend watering them from the bottom, once transplanted, with 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer.
Starting Tomatoes Indoors - Watering, Lighting and Fertilizing:
You are going to have to take care of your plants indoors between 6 and 10 weeks. That will require ongoing care to water them, manage lighting and feed them. Generally speaking I suggest 14 hours of light. The general range is 10-14 hours. I highly suggest getting a timer and just setting it for 14 hours on and 10 hours off. It will save you time and worry.
Watering should always be done from the bottom. Just fill the seed stray and whatever water is not taken up in 20-30 minutes, pour out. This method is a time saver and it cuts down on potential disease. You need to water your plants when the top of the starting mix dries out. The top typically dries out first.
After your plants have been growing for about two weeks, to keep it simple, just give the 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer each time you water them. You can use starting mix with fertilizer. I do add fertilizer to my starting mixes I make. Nothing is set in stone. You start the feedings when the first true leaves appear and get some size to them..
Starting tomatoes Indoors - Transplanting Them to the Garden
Remember you have to acclimate them to the outdoors. Slowly introduce them to the sun over a week. Once they are ready for the big leagues, you can put them in to the ground. The soil temperature should be around 50 degrees as should the nights. If you put them out early, they often just sit and don't grow until the temperatures are right.
There are many ways to prepare a planting hole. You should generally loosen the soil to a foot. Put in some balanced fertilizer and add some pulverized eggshell or lime into the bottom of the hole and mix it in. That helps with a disease called blossom end rot. I also suggest adding a teaspoon of Epsom Salts or magnesium sulfate. That general preparation should get your tomato transplants off to a great start!
A tomato will root from its stem. When you plant your tomato transplant in the hole you can cover 1/2 to 1/3 of the bottom stem. This helps to get the roots deeper into the soil and make for a sturdier plant. There are many ways to plant a tomato. Nothing is exact. You can use what you like from different sources and develop your own method. These are some videos that show you how I do it and you will even notice changes I have made over time.
Good Luck In Your Garden!
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