Friday, March 13, 2009

Tomato Time ....

Yes, this weekend - March 15 - is the time to start tomatoes. I say this only because the temptation in a cold climate, under grow lights, is to start tomatoes anytime they arrive in the mail. But I have found they get too big by June - our normal plant outdoors time of year. So the seeding date is March 15 - except that this year I am going to be away in early April and will miss the first transplant date and just can't leave a task like that to my house-sitter. Oops! So rule breaker that I am I started my tomatoes last weekend on March 8 and meant to blog about it but before I knew it they were already up! How did I do it? Easy, really.

As usual I started tomatoes in the little seedling tray designed especially for this purpose. Of course I washed the tray out with soap and water because even though they are plastic, they may have diseases of some kind because they have been used several years in a row. Seeds can also be started in a pot but believe me the bigger the pot, the more soil and the bigger the chance you will get damping off diseases because big pots of wet soil stay stay wet longer. So start seeds in a small container.

Use special seed starting mix. I like the big bags of Pro-mix but I also like Sunshine brand Organic soil mix. When you open the pro-mix it has been compressed - the sunshine is already fluffy so is ready to go. Add enough water to make a moist mix that looks like a damp sponge. It is not a soggy sponge dripping with water but a damp sponge. Fill the containers with this moist soil mix and tamp it down lightly so that it is just below the rim of the container. Sprinkle the seeds in a measured way in the rows. Measured means spread out - not all in a pile at one end.

I try to make tags for the rows first because otherwise I forget which tomato was seeded in which row and guess what? Every tomato cultivar looks exactly the same to the novice eye when it germinates. In the past I had old venetian blinds that I cut into small pieces with scissors. They were ideal for labels. I have finally run out of venetian blinds so I used little wooden labels this time because they were on hand. Either way, write on it with pencil. Permanent pens always fade and the end result? You just don't know what you have.

Once the seeds are spread out along the row, you can take a little of the dry soil mix and crumble it between your hands to lightly cover the seed. Once all tomatoes are seeded and labeled and covered I water sparingly. This is a technical term meaning don't water too much. I like to use luke warm water that has been sitting out overnight so that it doesn't have any chlorine in it. Finally I put on a plastic cover (not a sheet of plastic that will stick to the seeds and soil but a rigid clear cover made for this purpose). The real secret to success is that I put the whole works in the basement on my heated floor. It is so cozy down there and I check my seeds daily and mist them with a little misting bottle because they could germinate at any time and the soil surface could dry out because of the heat given off by my floor. Voila! They are up. Today. Which is a good thing because I am heading off for the weekend so I need to check the water and mist again before removing the cover and placing the whole tray under the grown lights set up in my office.

It is tomato time again ... can spring be far off?

PS Photo above is the lovely Cohen - at age one - eating his first Zebra Green heritage tomato from Aunty Kalen's garden.
Commercial greenhouses do have their plants well grown by now because they have the light and conditions to keep plants alive. Marianne at E & M Woodland Gardens (1-403- 224-2771) informs me they are just moving their tomatoes up to 3 gallon pots this week. By Mother's day they will be in 5 gallon pots and already have little tomatoes on them. Quite a different world from the home garden where we want to plant outdoors in the soil.

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