What to do this week –By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”
February is here and it is time to start growing our tomatoes for your spring vegetable gardens. Seeds started now inside the home will grow and be the right size for putting them into the garden around the first or second week of March. This week I would like to talk about growing tomatoes from seed. I will also help you to prepare your seed trays in order to give your new plants a good start. Time is moving by quickly so let’s get started.
Tomato growing is a favorite pastime everyone enjoys and growing your tomatoes from seed is easy, fun, and inexpensive. The only problem many of us have is finding out where to get our seeds from and choosing the correct varieties for our area. This is where I can help! I have used a website for many years to select seeds for my garden. This website is called Totally Tomatoes. Totally Tomatoes can be found on your computer using a simple search of their web address www.totallytomato.com.
Once you pull up their website you will be able to access their entire catalog online with no waiting. Just select the tomato section and then choose the type of tomatoes you are looking for such as large, medium, or small varieties. Once you select the type of tomato you are looking for, a selection will follow of several varieties for you to choose from. I usually pick two or three varieties and I choose the smallest amount of seeds (usually thirty) to keep my cost down. My cost is normally ten to twelve dollars and I will have enough seeds to last for the year. I should also tell you that I like to experiment with different varieties to see which do best in my garden. This also gives me the opportunity to taste different varieties of tomatoes.
Heirloom seeds are another type of seed many of you like to grow in the garden. One fact you need to be aware of is that heirloom seeds are seeds that have not been genetically altered in any way. If you are looking for the organic varieties Grandma used to plant in her garden, then this is the site you will need to visit. Just copy this address into your browser www.heirloomseeds.com. You will be able to select many old fashioned varieties and even some you may never have heard about before. Try to order your seeds as soon as possible as some seed producers get very busy this time of year and some varieties of seed may be sold out. Another source of heirloom seeds is victoryseeds.com. Their company has been awarded Top 5 honors for their heirloom plant and vegetable seeds from the Garden Watchdogs, a directory of garden resources and companies.
If you do not have a computer or do not like to do business online you can still go to your local garden store or stop by Shells Feed and Garden Supply on Nebraska Ave, just north of Bush Blvd.in Tampa. Shell’s carries a variety of different seeds in bulk so if you have a large garden you may want to stop by and see which varieties you may want to choose for your garden. Remember; if you purchase seeds in packets from the garden store be sure to read the packets informational section to be sure the varieties you pick out are varieties that will grow here in central Florida.
Now that you have picked out your seeds you need to get them planted. Start your seeds in small containers such as old egg cartons, small pots, or Styrofoam cups. Any potting soil will work to start your seeds and you can pickup your potting soil at any local garden center.
Fill your pots or containers with the potting soil being sure not to compact the soil to much as the roots of seedlings’ prefer a loose soil during the germination process. If you are using egg cartons just fill them up to the top of each cell. I will normally only fill the egg carton cells up to the top and gently smooth over each cell. If you are using small pots, just fill them to the top and make sure you have enough pots for the different varieties you are planting. I always plant more pots then I can use but this is ok because I like to have a few backups ready just in case something happens to my first batch. These extra plants will stay small as long as you do not repot them to early.
Now that your containers are ready for planting, sprinkle the seeds over the top of each cell allowing a couple of seeds per cell of the egg cartons or the small pots you are using. Just a note …I do not start my plants in large containers to save time later as large containers may give you problems in determining how much water to use resulting in overwatering and frequent death of the seedlings.
Now that you have added the seeds to the pots you will need to push them into the potting mix. I use a regular pencil with a flat eraser on top to gently push the seeds under the soil to the depth of the eraser. Next, I will sprinkle a little additional soil over the top of the seeds just to bury the seed slightly. After the seeds have been pushed into the soil you will need to water the cells or pots. Because the seeds are so small, I do not like to run water over the seeds because this might displace them. You can either use a misting bottle to water the seeds in or a watering can with small holes in the top. I prefer a misting bottle at this stage. Mist the containers until the soil flattens across them. Place your egg carton near a window that gets afternoon light and mist your plants each day until they germinate. Be sure not to let the plants get too saturated.
The frequency of watering will depend on how strong the light source is where you have placed your starter plants. Keep your eye on how much water you give your plants because many people water too often. Remember, when plants are germinating they like to be moist not wet and can go a few days between watering. Once the plants emerge from the soil they will begin to use slightly more water.
Most tomato seeds will sprout in seven to ten days and will begin to grow fairly rapidly. Continue to water the plants as needed and for small containers such as egg cartons, you will have to monitor them more closely. Once the seedlings reach about four inches in height, remove them from the egg cartons by gently pushing the bottom of the cells upwards. If the entire root section with dirt is dislodged, it is time to replant them into a larger container. You can use any size container up to a one gallon container to transplant them into. However, I recommend that when you transplant them into the larger container you incorporate some dolomite into the potting soil mix.
For a ten pound bag of potting soil you should add about two cups of dolomite and mix well before adding the soil into the new containers. Fill the containers about three quarters full of this mix then place your new seedlings into the pot being careful not to disturb the roots. Add additional potting soil over the root ball of the tomato seedling and gently firm the soil around the plant. Do not compact the soil. Use a gentle stream of water to settle the plant and place back in the sunny window. In about three weeks your new plants will be ready to place in the garden.
I hope you enjoy this section on starting tomato seeds and my next article will give you additional hints to keep your tomatoes thriving in the garden. As always remember, without plants we wouldn’t be here!