All Things Tomato, Part 1: Starting from Seed

March in Indiana is always an adventure!  Although it is 24 degrees and snow is on the ground, spring will return soon and we can start getting our hands dirty in the garden!  

We will be blogging about tomatoes from time to time over the next few weeks in preparation for our annual Ten-Cent Tomato Sale on April 27th.

When and how do I start my tomatoes?  These are questions that you might be asking right now as you prepare to grow a perfectly organic tomato from seed.

Here's the "when":

Determine the frost-free date for our area.  We target Mother's Day, and most years that is close to being accurate.  We always advise that you should be prepared to cover and protect your transplants if the nighttime temperature falls below 50 degrees.  Tomatoes like warm air and soil, and will get off to a rocky start if they experience wide fluctuations in temperatures. 

Now, let's step back in time 6-8 weeks: your seedlings should have nicely developed roots that are ready to transplant.

Here's the "how":

  1.  Start with sterile equipment.  We like seed starting units that include a clear top, making your tray a "mini greenhouse."
  2. Use organic seeding soil.
  3. Choose organically grown, non-GMO seeds.  Our new line, Botanical Interests, is a great line of seeds that we are proud to offer this season.
  4. Plant your seeds according to the depth and spacing directions on the seed packet.  Cover the seeds with soil mix and tamp down to ensure that the seeds are held in firm contact with the soil.
  5. The best way to hydrate the soil is to water from the bottom, which can be accomplished by placing the plant container in a large pan of shallow water for a few minutes per session.
  6. Cover the tray with a clear lid or plastic wrap after watering to retain moisture.  Check moisture level daily and watch for germination.  As soon as the seeds germinate, remove the lid or plastic wrap.
  7.  Place seed containers in a sunny location, such as a window with southern exposure, or provide supplemental lighting with florescent bulbs.  Monitor the soil, and do not allow it to dry out.  Rotate trays if plants begin to lean towards their light source.
  8. Lastly, harden off your seedlings and prepare them for exposure to full sun before planting.  This can be accomplished by placing your seedlings in a shady spot outdoors for a few hours a day for 7-10 days. 
Matthew Dammann