Monday, March 26, 2012

Seeding tomatoes

Seeds are designed by nature to grow.

Inside each seed is a plant in embryo form, whose purpose is to grow and produce more seed to continue the story of that particular plant species.

Amazing isn't it? I love seeds. Little packages of miracles.

Now the weather has turned back from being summer-like to much more March-like, it makes me realize that instead of panicking because I'm late with things, I'm actually right on time.

End of March and early April is tomato seeding time.

I actually started some of mine far earlier, so I will have nice large plants to put in my hoop house in April. June tomatoes are my goal and with the lovely Czechoslovakian heirloom variety "Stupice" this is within my reach. Stupice is typically 50-60 days days to maturity from transplanting.

Regardless of when I plant my tomatoes, I do them all the same way.

In this part of Southern Ontario, we are able to get tender warm weather crops into the ground around the long weekend in May. The goal is to  get tomatoes into the ground when they are 6-8 week on in growth.

So, counting back 6-8 weeks from May 24th puts us at!

You can mix your own seeding medium, and include such materials as perlite, vermiculite, compost, peat moss and perhaps even a little nutrient addition. This is what I'll do when I "retire", and garden as a hobby only.
As for now I purchase a nice light soil-less mix, designed specifically for seeding. Heavy mixes, or garden soil, when watered don't allow sufficient oxygen to get to the roots.

I put my seeding medium into a large bucket, add hot water to moisten and loosely mound the medium into my planting containers. Why hot water? Well, I find it mixes better, my hands like it better because it's warm, but most importantly I think the seeds prefer  being placed in warm soil, instead of being plunged into an icy mix.  Especially tomatoes, and other heat loving seeds like peppers and eggplants.

What containers to use? I use and reuse my plastic cell trays. I use trays with 200 cells, because I plant so many varieties, but any plastic container will do, including yogourt tubs, or whatever you have. Just put holes in the bottom to ensure good drainage. And don't pack the soil in, keep it loose and light.

With your finger, make a slight impression in the soil. The general rule for planting seeds is to plant at a depth that is 2-3 times a seeds width.

Pop a seed or two in each impression, and pull the soil up over the seed, giving it a light pat to ensure good soil to seed contact. Use a spray bottle to moisten your seed plantings, again using warm water. But don't saturate it!

The seeds you have planted have sufficient nutrients contained within to get safely to germination, so there is no need to fertilize at this stage.

Cover the container with a humidity dome, or a home fashioned one. Put your planting container in a clear plastic bag, placing popsicle sticks in your planted container to prop up the plastic.
I put these seeded flats and pots under my grow lights, as close to the lights as they can be.
You can get away with south facing windows, but your plants will reach for the lights, and if you are not careful, will become tall and spindly.

Watch closely- germination should take about 3-7 days. If there are any signs of fungal growth, get the bag or humidity dome off right away, and rub the fungus out with your fingers. Remove the plastic for good when you see that the majority of your seeds have sprouted.
The first set of leaves you see are the cotyledons. Any time after you see the first true set of leaves, that is those appearing after the cotyledons, you can think about transplanting. I usually wait until there is even more growth, a good 3 weeks later.

I again fill the pot I intend to put the tomato seedling into with a nice warm soil-less mix, the same mix I've used for seeding. The pot is loosely filled, and I gently nip off all the lower leaves of the plants between my fingernails. I make a deep hole in the soil in my pot, and put the tomato in deep, so that only the top of the plant is above the soil. I pack the soil carefully around the plant and water with a good diluted kelp solution. I like Mr Kelpman.

Cha, cha're a tomato seeding super star!

Stay tuned for thoughts on getting your tomatoes in the ground in the coming weeks!

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