Starting Tomato Plants

May 16, 2006

Yesterday I set my tomato transplants out into the garden and thought I’d share the techniques that I use to grow healthy tomato plants indoors.

The tomato seeds were planted about six weeks ago and resulted in a dozen healthy transplants for the garden.

Growing Healthy Tomato Seedlings Indoors

I started out by planting twelve different varieties, two seeds to a cell in a twenty-four cell seedling tray. All of the tomato seeds were left over from previous seasons but germinated with no failures. After growing for a couple of weeks I pinched out the weaker of the two seedlings in each cell.

This left twenty-four tomato plants, two of each of the dozen varieties that were planted. Only twelve will make it to the garden, but I have a spare for each variety in case there’s a problem or a particular seedling does not grow well. If you grow multiple tomato varieties be sure to label them.

Follow the normal basic seed starting techniques when growing tomato plants from seed. Use a moistened soil less seed starting medium that contains ingredients such as perlite and vermiculite to keep the mixture light and loose.

Seed Starting Essentials for Tomato Plants

I use a planting medium that doesn’t include fertilizer, but enrich it by adding in one part of earthworm castings for every four parts of the soil less mixture. No additional fertilizer is applied until the plants are growing and have formed a couple of true leaves.

A good light source is essential if you want to produce stocky plants. Fluorescent grow lights are perfect for raising tomato seedlings. Keep the grow lights or regular fluorescent tubes an inch or two above the tops of the tomato plants to encourage strong, stocky growth rather than weak leggy plants.

Use a balanced organic fertilizer that can be mixed in water, diluted and applied as you water the seedlings. One feeding per week should be sufficient to grow large, healthy tomato plants that will be ready for transplanting six to eight weeks after sowing the seeds.

Additional Tricks for Growing Tomato Plants from Seed

A previous entry discussed the idea of tickling tomato seedlings to keep them happy and encourage strong growth. Another trick that is useful when growing tomato seedlings is to transplant them from their original cells into larger containers.

After the plants are about five inches tall move them into a larger container and plant them a little deeper than they were in the original container. The plants benefit from the extra room for root growth, but I think they also enjoy the handling and change of environment.

I transplant the best looking seedling of each variety into a larger container and by the time the plants are ready for the garden the transplanted ones are always stronger, thicker, and look better than the ones that were not moved into a new growing container.

Later this week I’ll post an article on hardening off tomato plants to prepare them for life outdoors and discuss the best techniques for transplanting tomatoes into the garden. 

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  • Lisa

    I started growing my own tomatoes three years ago, but it was only last year that I thought I would try drying some seeds from one of my ripe tomatoes. I took the biggest tomato that grew and dried its seeds. This spring I planted those seeds, and in addition, I bought 7 different varieties of tomatos from packets. I got the most pleasant surprise, those seeds that I harvested last year are producing the biggest, healthiest tomato plants in my greenhouse. My tomatoes are still green so I am yet to do a taste test but I know that tomato seeds are good for 2 years so I will definately try to seed more plants from that one beautiful 1-3/4 pound tomato again next year. Yup, we don’t have to buy tomato seeds anymore, we take the biggest tomato, dry the seeds and we’ve got much nicer tomatoes than we can buy seeds for from the store! I grew over 50 tomato plants this year, I only needed 14 to fit into my greenhouse, I gave all the rest my plants away to people that appreciated growing tomatoes. Hopefully they will take the seeds from their biggest tomatoes and pass the seeds along to other appreciating tomato growers. I hope this idea catches on to you folks.

  • tom scott

    Good advice, thank you. Me and the wife have a tomato she brought home and put a piece in yard and every year it comes up in the same spot. I think it likes it here. I can till and it still comes up guess that is where it wants to be but bought some more and when in school (25 years ago) we made plants with paper towel and plastic bag/cup, to start. Good luck on your garden, time to pick my blackeye peas.

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  • Thisoldwoman

    I haven’t bought tomato seeds in years. My method is to eat a tomato. If I especially like it, I spit the seeds out, let them dry and put them into a labeled envelop for the next season, being sure to include details about size, taste, health of the plant and abundance of fruits. These are all from my garden, not something bought, though that could reasonably be expected work sometimes. Every year they just get better, being perfectly suited to the climate/temperature/soil/rainfall right here.

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