Secrets of Growing Tomatoes from Seeds

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Growing tomatoes from seeds has become a near mania levels in today’s gardens. Tomatoes have become the essence of summer and the taste of sunshine with new varieties being offered each year. Tomatoes are easy to grow in almost any sunny garden location and in any climate zone.

There are two types of tomatoes, Determinate and Indeterminate. Determinate varieties are bushy and yield their entire crop at once, good for canning or drying tomatoes. Indeterminate varieties tend to be more vine-like, yield their crop throughout the growing season for table fresh tomatoes each week. Both varieties will provide tomato crops from 65 to 90 days after planting in the garden.

1. When to plant tomato seeds

To get an early jump on the growing season, start seeds indoors 5-7 weeks before the last anticipated frost. If starting seeds indoors, look for a sunny spot such as windowsill or counter top with a south-facing window.

Plant seeds in small 2-inch starter pots available at most nurseries. You can save and recycle the six packs from your nursery for seed starter pots, they’re free. Plastic strawberry containers from the grocery store make great starter pots, too.

Sow seeds in rows 2-inches apart, ¼ to ½ inch deep; gently firm the soil over the seeds. Keep the soil damp to aid in the germination process. Seeds will germinate in 10 to 14 days. When seedlings have grown to 2-inches tall they can be transplanted to 3 or 4-inch pots. It’s important to wait until the plants have their secondary, or true, leaves. You will recognize them, they look like real tomato leaves.

Move seedlings outside when the daytime temperature reaches 70 degrees and the night temperature stays above 55 degrees.

Keep them in a sunny location until seedlings reach garden planting size. For most varieties that means 4 to 6-inches high.

Quick tomato tips

• Start indoors to extend the growing season
• Plant seeds 2” apart and ¼ to ½ deep
• Keep soil moist
• Move to larger pots when seedlings get secondary leaves

2. Where to plant tomatoes

Plant tomatoes where they get full sun. If the garden gets partial shade, there are varieties that will prosper there as well. Tomatoes should be planted 1-1/2 to 3-feet apart. If garden space is limited consider using several large clay pots or other containers. Tomatoes will produce well in any large pot. If using containers, plant three to four tomatoes in each container. Tomatoes enjoy communal living.

When transplanting tomatoes, gently break the root ball apart to encourage larger root growth for each plant. Then, dig a hole 2-times the size of the root ball, add potting mix or compost to the bottom of the hole, snip off the bottom two or three side branches and plant the tomato up to these branch intersections. This will encourage a larger root system. Fill up the hole with compost or potting mix and gently press down around the roots to remove any air pockets.

Location tips

• Plant in full or partial sun
• Plant deeper and separate the roots for better growth
• Plant 3 or 4 tomatoes together in larger pots

3. What kind of soil for best results

Tomato plants like a slightly acidic soil. Add lime if the soil is too alkaline or sulfur to soil that is too acidic. If the soil is dry add peat moss, compost or planting mix to improve its ability to hold moisture. Fertilize every 3 to 4-weeks with a 4-6-3 fertilizer from the time blossoms set until the end of harvest.

4. Fertilize wisely

Fertilize 4-5 weeks after planting when the first flowers appear. Use a well balanced organic fertilizer for best results.

5. What varieties are best?

The question is: how will you use your harvest? Do you want tomatoes for sauces, or tomatoes for preserving, fresh tomatoes for salads and Italian cooking, or heirloom tomatoes for maximum flavor?

6. Popular tomato varieties 

Early varieties: Early Girl, Oregon Spring, Quick-Pick
Heirloom varieties: Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Costoluto Genovese
Large varieties: Beefstake, Big Beef, Delicious
Paste varieties: Roma, San Marzano, Viva Italia
Small varieties: Gardeneer’s Delight, Juliet, Patio, Yellow Pear
Partial Shade varieties: Black Prince, Green Zebra, Northern Lights, Purple Calabash

It’s easy to get started growing tomatoes from seeds. It takes a few extra weeks, but there are considerable savings when compared to purchasing starter packs or tomatoes in gallon containers. If you harvest and preserve part of your tomato crop; you’ve already got your seeds for next year.

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