Planting Tomato Seeds
The National Garden Bureau has designated 2011 as The Year of the Tomato, with hopes that even non-gardeners will grow a plant or two to enjoy fresh flavor at a fraction of the cost of grocery-store tomatoes.
It’s always the year of the tomato in my garden, because I grow beef-stakes, grapes, hollow ones and plenty of heirlooms to eat fresh and freeze as salsa and tomato sauce for winter.
Heirloom and hybrid tomatoes that are homegrown offer much more variety, flavor and nutrition than those purchased. Photo by Doreen G. Howard
I grow oddities and heirlooms and have learned by experience the tricks of starting tomatoes from seed. Colored cherry types are my passion for 2011, plus a few heirlooms. I’m planting Texas Wild (a pea-size red heirloom), Solid Gold golden grape, Aunt Ruby’s German Green cherry, Super Snow White cherry, Tumbling Tom cherry and Chocolate cherry. All should be prolific.
The heirlooms include Pineapple, Schimmeig Stoo, Amish Paste and Japanese Black Trifele. Plus, I’m experimenting with several blue tomatoes that breeder Tom Wagner is developing for market; specifically Pansy Ap, Fahrenheit Blues and Blue Bayou. Those should be interesting, and I will share photos of them with you later in the season.
Schimmeig Stoo is an heirloom that is hollow, pleated and packed with taste. It's great for stuffing with cottage cheese or tuna salad. You can't buy it at store, but you can start plants from seed. Photo by Doreen G. Howard
Tomatoes are a warm season crop, so setting seed flats or pots on a heat mat promotes rapid germination. Once seeds are up, I remove the heat source, but keep grow lights two inches from the plant tops. I have to adjust the distance every other day. The reason they grow so rapidly is that I use mycorrhizal fungi inoculants when I press seeds into the planting mix. Simply dampen seeds and roll them in the powder. Fungal hyphae or threads form on plant roots almost immediately and gather extra nutrients and water to fuel development.
I also run a small oscillating fan, directed at the plants. The constant movement triggers the release of hormones that build thicker stems. The resulting tomato transplants end up stockier than normal with sturdy stems, which are more durable when set into the garden bed. You won’t have leggy plants and you’ll avoid diseases and rot by having to bury long, thin stems.
Other warm-season vegetables such as melons, peppers and eggplant should be started from seed in the same manner. Add a bit of Epsom salts to the potting mix you use for peppers to give emerging plants an immediate dose of boron, which they crave. Plants will bloom faster in the garden and produce more peppers.
Save your eggshells, too, for when you transplant tomatoes into the garden. Crush them, scatter over the soil and then set in plants. The shells gradually release calcium into the dirt, preventing blossom-end rot. Calcium also helps all types of transplants produce vigorous root systems, spurring plant growth.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
In stores now!
Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including Amazon.com.