Thursday, March 11, 2010

Growing Tomatoes From Seed

This year I started planting my tomato seeds in January. (Our last frost date is May 24.) As you can probably estimate, January is way too early for most folks here. I got excited about all the tomatoes I want to grow. I got carried away looking at my big seed stash and had to plant. I am just too impatient to be a farmer.

I knew it was early and they would get leggy and be too thin to do well in the windowsill in February, so I bought a couple of very cheap flourescent lamps, little ones, old desk lamps at a second-hand store. I put these in the very wide south windowsill where I grow my seedlings. Every morning when I get up, around 5 am, I turn them on and make sure the tomatoes are under them until the sun is up and shining in the window, then I turn the lights off. I turn them back on at dinner time where they shine on the tomatoes until I go to bed at night, when I turn them off again.

This gives the tomatoes the amount of daylight they need. They do ok with 12 hours, 14 is even better. Twelve hours is enough, so this means that I can rotate seedlings under the lights. 12 hours for one set and 12 hours for the next set of seedlings. This way I only need lights for half the growing seedlings at a time.

I started them in little newspaper pots setting in cookie and roast chicken trays and anything else I had saved for planting. You can read about the newspaper pots in a previous post here.

I like these types of trays for this purpose because you get a lid with it.

As soon as they start to pop up, the lids comes off. These tomato seeds sprouted in just a few days! They were so fast!

As the tomato plants grew tall, I transplated them into larger containers, planting them as deeply as possible each time. Tomatoes like to be planted deep with only a couple of leaves showing at the top. They will grow new roots all along the stem, giving them a good supporting root system for later.

This also helps to keep them from getting leggy when planted indoors too early in the winter.

They were soon too tall for the little paper pots.

When they got that tall, I transplanted them deeper in the same containers and took away the paper pots.

These are the tomatoes after transplanting the first time.

They took about three weeks to get too tall for that container.

I took them out and replanted them into the same container. This time I layed the root mass sideways in the bottom of the container with just a couple of top leaves showing. They have been growing like that for a couple of weeks. I had hoped they would take longer to get too big for those containers, but that wasn't to be. This is what they look like this morning.

The time has come to give these babies a very large, more permanent home, at least until they go into the garden.

Today I transplanted them into tall ice cream containers that I had saved. I left a bit of the top showing. The root mass sits solidly on the bottom of the container but I think they will have lots of room to grow much taller.

These tomatoes consist of three types that I have been asked to grow as a 'CSI' project. They are 'Cowlick', 'Spudakee' and 'Indian Spripe'. I think the last ones are also called 'Cherokee Stripe'. I am taking detailed notes on the plants as they grow. I will need notes on soil, dates, temps, weather, taste tests, seed saving info, etc. etc.

(I don't really know what CSI stands for but I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with forensic investigation. )

Some of the tomatoes are for my own use. I planted a large, heirloom beef heart type from Portugal. I don't have a specific variety name for it but it did very well last year and we liked them. I got the seeds years ago in a trade from someone who's ancestor brought them over from Portugal. This is our "Portugal" tomato.

I also planted "Matt's Wild Cherry". (No, I don't know who Matt is but have wondered that myself. I don't know who Pete is either, but catch myself saying "for Pete's sake" often enough that I really should find that out.) Some of these plants are grape tomatoes, grown from seed that I saved from the actual grape tomatoes I bought at the grocery store. These are probably a hybrid so I don't know if I will get grape tomatoes from them or not. Its an experiment. (I love surprise gardening!) I am planning to also plant 'San Marzano' tomatoes. These are Italian and are suppose to be the best paste tomatoes in the world. We grew these last year but didn't make paste from them. This year I am going to. I have a lot of seed saved from last year's tomatoes.

We LOVE tomatoes and put them in just about everything we cook. This year I will start using my waterbath canner and actually can some of these tomatoes. Right now it is being used as our "ash pot" beside the wood stove. It's multi-tasking!

I am thrilled with the results of my tomato growth so far. They are strong and healthy. I have peppers and other things growing now too, in the new greenhouses I found on sale in my previous post! I have two of them set up at the back door that faces south in the kitchen.


The Japanese Redneck said...

That did seem a bit early to me. I have a note on the counter that says "start seeds". I need to read it when I get home.

Luv the way that big tomato looks. Cool.

Barbee' said...

I am impressed with how organized you are and how well your crop is doing so far. You are going to have so many delicious tomatoes! You were smart to save those containers for seeding. I saw you on Suzanne's blog and came over to read about your tomato plants. Nice post!

Lisa said...

This was helpful to me. I am concerned because we started seeds this past weekend and the cauliflower and broccoli seem to be sprouting already. We started them along with marigolds (the smelly kind) some herbs, and peppers. We are concerned they will be too big or too leggy by the time its time to plant them. Our last frost date is 6/6 so we are only a week or so after you.
Reading this I have realized that i know NOTHING about planting still even after last year. Last year all of our tomatoes lived, and were transplanted into the garden but never fruited. I blamed it on blight and tried to move on.

This year we have planted SO MUCH indoors (i will be creating a post soon with pictures of our set up) because we wanted to supply ourselves with enough to can for the winter. I have something like 40 tomato plants going right now.

I feel like I may be a bit out of my league!

Lisa said...

then I typod on my URL lol

Mrs. T said...

Thanks for all the detail, this post is very helpful. I sure wanted to plant in January, but I've held off. I read that I should be planting seeds in mid-March, so I'll get to it this weekend. This will be my first year with indoor seedlings and your blog has been a great source of information.

Last year I saved seeds from a store-bought green pepper, so I hope that it will sprout.

Even though I intend to plant tomato seeds indoors, I find that they come up automatically in my garden, from the seeds dropped the previous year (from over-ripe or damaged tomatoes left on the ground). At least the indoor seedlings will have a head start.

Thank you for the helpful tips!

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

I am so glad my blog has been helpful!

Hi Ramona, if you want some of those tomato seeds, just let me know. Maybe we can swap :-)

Hi Barbee! Suzanne has such a great blog! I never miss reading it! Welcome!

Lisa, the cauliflower and broccoli can go into the garden almost as soon as it is dry enough to be worked. You don't have to wait for the last frost date for those. All brassicas in that family (kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, bok choi, rapini, turnip, etc) won't be harmed by the frost. You do have to keep tomatoes protected, however. They can't take any frost at all. I wait until after June 1st to put my tomatoes in the garden, just to be safe.

I probably have about 40 too. I don't know where I will put them all in the garden this year! I will have to do more planning.

Mrs. T, I sent you an email re the pepper seeds. :-)

Do the volunteer tomato plants have time to produce ripe tomatoes where you are? If so, you are lucky! We have to start them early here, as our growing season is not long enough. I sure do wish it were!

Eggs In My Pocket / Yesteryear Embroideries said...

Looks like everything is doing well! Have a great weekend, blessings,Kathleen

Lisa said...

SEe I didnt know that I could plant the Broccoli and Cauli early in the season. So you don't think it would hurt them to get them in the ground in May then? Right now we are dealing with mud, the snow has melted (yay)but the temperatures have been mild (40's). The wet season will be end of april, beginning of may. Last year it was wet through the end of june. I think that was the cause of my tomato disaster. There just wasn't enough sunlight. We failed last year with tomatoes. potatoes and corn (yep i am the only person who CANNOT grow potatoes) The peppers, peas, green beans and cukes all rocked.

Thanks for your ear. lol

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

We had a wet and cold season last year too, with standing water in a lot of areas in early May. Very bad year! I am hoping for a dryer spring this year. I usually put the brassicas (broccoli/califlower), onions, carrots and peas in the garden as soon as I can work out there, hopefully mid April. My FIL managed to plant his peas during an odd warm, dry spell in March last year and they did well, after all the snow melted again.

Corn can go in as soon as the ground is 60F a few inches down and dry enough, hopefully late April this year for me. Ditto for potatoes but they do need dry soil.

I had ducks and geese swimming in my garden last May! I liked seeing them out there but I sure do hope its not that wet again! We had to abondon some of our tilled and planned garden space last year as it was just too wet to use.

Do keep trying the potatotes! Put them in early in a dry spot and keep piling the dirt up around them as they grow. Don't feed them a lot of nitrogen.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Nice tomatoes. I really love the look of the Portugal one and know why you would save seed. I've done my share of grocery store seed saving with quite a bit of success. I don't think I've done tomato on purpose but have had various volunteers that could well have been from those winter fruit that they sell as tomato.

And I so know about the doing double shifts under the lights - sigh.

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

lol! I feel the same way about grocery store tomatoes! Not the same thing at all!