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Sunday, March 3, 2013

How to Effectively Start Tomatoes Indoors: Germination to Transplants

How to Effectively Start Tomatoes Indoors
(Preparing the Starting Mix, Seed Cells and Planting)

My last tomato blog entry talked about maturity dates and when to start tomatoes indoors. One key factor you have to take into account is how long you can manage your seedlings/transplants before you can get them into the ground. I've made my decision and it is now tomato seed starting time!

Keys to Effectively Starting Tomatoes Indoors
  1. Pre-moisten the starting mix
  2. Thumb pack the seed cells
  3. Plant 2-3 seeds per cell and thin
  4. Bottom water
  5. Appropriate lighting (2 inches above seed/leaves)
  6. 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer
  7. Transplant them from the cells at 4-5 weeks.
  8. Acclimation: Getting them outside safely.

The video shows you the ENTIRE process of how to start your tomato seeds indoors and get them into transplant cups when they mature in about 4-5 weeks. It covers all the above topics. In this blog entry today I am only covering Key Points 1,2 and 3.

Seed Starting Mix

Seed starting mixes often come dry or have very little water in them. Make sure you mix some water into your seed starting mix before you plant your tomato seeds. A pre-moisten mix will help ensure germination is prompt and it helps with bottom watering - water absorption.

Preparing the Seed Cells

The seed cells need to be properly packed with the starting mix. The best method to pack the cells is a method I call: Thumb Packing. Fill the seed trays with starting mix and then pack each cell down with your thumb and refill. You want to have a very firm planting base for your tomato seeds. A loose base will risk seeds falling to the bottom of the cell and it diminishes strong root growth.

Planting the Tomato Seeds 

You have to decide how many tomato transplants you want and if you are like me, maybe a better question is... how many tomato transplants can your garden actually hold?

Believe it or not, tomatoes are fairly hardy and you can plant 4 or 5 seeds per cell. However, the more tomatoes you have in the cell the greater the risk of transplant shock. You are tearing roots when you try and separate them.

When they (4 or 5 transplants per cell) are a few inches high, you can gently pull them apart and transplant them into cups. They will grow. An old tomato video I did showed that method. I had greater need for more transplants during the time I made that video.

The tomato seed starting video I did  this week assumes you are growing the seedling tomatoes just  for your garden and maybe a few friends.

Plant 2-3 tomato seeds per cell and place them in the corners of the cells. Press them down about a 1/4 inch with a Popsicle stick and cover lightly.

You don not need to keep all three seedlings. You can thin them to the strongest seedling per cell. You can also keep 2 or 3 seedling growing in the cell. It is your choice. The major difference is that the more plants you have in the cell, the more they compete for resources and the sooner they need to be transplanted into another container.  Three plants growing in one sell will be smaller than one plant growing in one cell over the same period of time. The risk of transplant shock is also higher.

Watering and Lighting

I will fully address watering, lighting and fertilizing in a future video and blog entry. As for now, fill the flat with water and let your seed cells absorb water for 20-30 minutes after you planted the tomato seeds. You should dump out any excess water. You should set your lights about 2 inches above the starting mix. You want germinating seeds to hit intense light as soon as they come out of the ground. This prevents plant 'legginess".

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