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Tomatoes From Seed the Easy Way

April 28, 2011

Pineapple, a luscious heirloom beefsteak, is easy to start from seed.

Credit: Doreen G. Howard
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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.

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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

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Hi I am not from your country

By mojtaba

I am not from your country ,i am from Asian country ,
decided to grow tomatoes seed directly from my garden , dont want use trans plants tomato .
please tell me it can be done or not
with my regard

I live in Zone 8. Can I start

By Sharon Andrews

I live in Zone 8.
Can I start seeds in late July and plant the end of August for a fall harvest?

How is the easiest way to

By Debby Dillworth

How is the easiest way to strip the seeds from the tomatoes to save for next year? The seeds are almost always got some meat clinging to them. Last year I put the seeds (meat & all) on paper towel & let dry. Then soaked them & picked them off one by one to plant this year. Almost all came up, but I'm sure there has to be a better way!

When should I plant tomato

By collene

When should I plant tomato seeds?

It depends on where you

By Doreen G. Howard

It depends on where you live.  All but the northern climate zones are already warm.  Plants are ready to be set out in the garden.  Seeds should have been planted by March 1.  If you live in Zones 3 & 4, you can start seeds now and set out the transplants the first week of June.

i live in Columbiana county

By Beverly Shivers

i live in Columbiana county Ohio and i want to start tomatos by seed and woundering when should i start indoors to get them ready to plant outside, they will be planted in containers.i have never started from seed before, thank for the help

Beverly, you want to start

By Almanac Staff

Beverly, you want to start seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in your area. That can be estimated here (note, these are average frost dates):

Key in your zip code for dates. As you get closer to the end of the 6- to 8-week seed-starting period, keep an eye on local conditions. Be sure to "harden off" your plants; that means bring them into the daylight and air for a short while, and then for increasingly longer periods. When it is consistently warm out, plant accordingly.

Be aware that you should have deep containers for tomatoes. They like plenty of room to establish roots.


Hi, I decided to try starting

By Erin W.

I decided to try starting my plants from seeds this year, and they seem to be doing really well. I think all the seeds are up now and I have tiny little plants, the tallest is only about 2 inches tall. I can't keep all the seedlings, there are just too many, so how do I tell which are the strongest plants? I won't be doing anything with them for at least another couple weeks at least.

Also, on one of the plants, instead of the seed falling off the end of the plant it is stuck on the stem. Will it fall off on it's own? or should I try to pick it off? I'm afraid that it's suffocating the poor little guy.

Any help would be great.


Remove seedlings by cutting

By Doreen G. Howard

Remove seedlings by cutting them off with scissors to avoid damaging the remaining plant.  Look for the shortest and stoutest plants.  Tall lanky one don't adjust as well.

I started my tomatoes in a

By Tree

I started my tomatoes in a burpee brand 10 day self watering seed starter pack. It looks like I have mold and most of the seedlings have lost their leaves and color. How do I save them? I planted tumbling toms, argo hybrid and a mix pack of heirlooms.

Stark Brothers. I've used

By tammy mccullough

Stark Brothers. I've used them for over thirty years. Great products and guarantees

Mold thrives in humid

By Almanac Staff

Mold thrives in humid environments. Increase air circulation by removing any cover over the seedlings. Also, add a fan with a very gentle breeze, which helps to circulate the air and also helps the seedlings to develop stronger stems. Reduce watering. Thin seedlings as needed. Some gardeners spray affected seedlings with a dilute solution of 1 part hydrogen peroxide (be sure the bottle says 3-percent concentration) to 10 parts water. Good luck!




Baker Creek Seed Co. is where

By Dori Thomas

Baker Creek Seed Co. is where I get mine. Love them!

I like to use Victory Seed

By John Steinmeyer

I like to use Victory Seed Company for all heirlooom seeds. They have never disappointed me. Also, type in Heirloom Seeds in Google and you will get lots of nurseries. Also, I am growing an heirloom tomato this year called Chesapeek Purple and it is highly recommended by almost all tomato growers. I have 20 plants of it for me and my neighbors. Good luck, John

In Canada one of the best is

By Susan L. griffin

In Canada one of the best is Heritage Harvest Seeds. They have over 200 yes that is over 200 heirloom varieties. I have tried many of them never had a failure. Their online and catalog also includes the history of their no gmo no hybrid untreated natural seed. It is grown in Manitoba zone 3 if we can grow em here anyone can. Highly recommend. Her selection of dried beans is awesome too.

late planting of tomatoes

By ntoosh

this is my first real year of gardening. I have a 5'x 16' area tilled and prepared (top soil, cow manure and peat moss) and the moon will be full this weekend. I live in sw florida and want to plant tomatoes.. can I at this time of the year. Mid-august?


By Judyram

I live in the Anza-Borrego Desert in east San Diego County, California. I am gardening in raised boxes (3 ft. high), "square foot" style. Our soil is equal parts pearlite, peat, and compost with extra compost added after harvesting the cool season veggies.

I have harvested my first tomatoes and was disappointed that they were mushy. I have Stupice and yellow pair. What might be the reason for mushy tomatoes and what might be the remedy?

The two varieties you grew

By AnightOwl

The two varieties you grew are kinda mushy by nature. Stupice gives you tomatoes during the cooler weather (you should be able to grow all winter in your area, it tolerates light frost), but it's not a great choice for your main season. Yellow pears are prolific, but can be mealy/mushy (make an awesome sauce though). Try other main season varieties and I think you will have better luck.

tomatoes from seed

By rengreer11

I am a novice gardener, this is my third year. However, I have gleaned so many useful tips and information from the Almanac. I read a suggestion on the website that tomato seeds can be sown directly in some areas. I live in Texas and even though we have experienced some snow and cold in late Winter and early Spring, my Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato seed is a thriving seedling and I hope it does well this year. I also planted Brandywine seeds looking forward to great yields.

Re: tomatoes from seed

By Doreen G. Howard

Texas heats up fast, so be sure the tomatoes have flowered and set fruit by the middle June when nights don't cool below 72F.  Tomato pollen becomes sterile then.
Also, try direct seeding more tomatoes in late August; you should be picking by Halloween!  Pick determinate types like Southern Nights and Silvery Fir Tree for big crops that will ripen within a two-week period.  I gardened in Texas for 21 years and learned these tips about the fine art of tomato growing the hot climate from native Texan gardeners.

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