Yes it is time to start tomatoes from seed again and that is exactly what I did yesterday. I love to start them in a little tray with shallow channels so that all the various kinds can be started at once. I know, some people like to grow in egg shells or in goofy peat pots or cell packs but no goofiness for me this year.... Just straight-up seedling mix (check here for more on the new organic seedling mixes available in a few days), seeds and water. The labels I cut from a yogurt container and labelled with a permanent pen. My warm floor isn't warm right now (yes that is being fixed) so I put my tray on the heat vent in the bathroom. Nothing kills off little seeds that are struggling to germinate faster than cold soil and in an older home it is hard to get heat. If you are new at tomatoes this is a reminder that the plants do not need sun until they are up - they just need heat so do something to warm the trays.
I am trying more of the heritage seeds again this year even though they have largely failed compared to the newer hybrids in the past. My reasoning is that I will be planting into a greenhouse when they are bigger and there won't be as many environmental factors to consider. This is the year I am going to continue growing them organically but with more consistent additions of compost tea and micronutrients. In the greenhouse I use a hydroponic system and I will not use conventional fertilizers for the first time on my hydroponic tomatoes. Instead, I am using more compost teas and micronutrients and other things - check this page to follow the progress this season.
Like a grape grower and maker of fine wines, last year for the first time I checked my tomatoes for their BRIX readings. This is a test for sugars in the fruit. I use a refractometer to do this and my tomatoes were double the BRIX that the bought tomatoes were so I am encouraged to pursue this further this year and Heritage tomatoes might have more potential for sweetness naturally - this is why they are back in the game.
Thanks to Renee's Garden I have free seeds again this year (Big Beef - my favorite new beefstake cultivar, and Sungold- my favorite orange cherry tomato last year - so sweet and so early. Rennee's also sent me Brandywine,Marvel Stripe and Green Zebra Heirloom tomatoes all in one package labelled 'Rainbow's End'. I am intrigued by the tomatoes commercial growers sell in little trusses so I am also growing 'Moneymaker' and I like to have a few tomatoes to spill over the side of a pot so I am growing the one non-staking type 'Tumbler'. Finally, at a seedy staurday I picked up a Beefstake mix of tomatoes because I want to live dangerously! The idea here is to save the first sweet tomato that ripens for future cops.
I seeded and covered the seeds with a bit of seedling mix and covered the whole works with a plastic cover to keep the humidity in until they are germinated. In the past I have found the plants germinate at different stages but when you use heat they are usually up in under a week. Once 30% or so are up I move the whole works up to my grow lights. Once 75% are up I remove the plastic cover but still water to keep them moist.
This is once the plants are well up and have their true leaves. I have already secured my rootrainers from Lee Valley to move them into so I will write about that more in a few weeks.
I never fertilize or use a compost-based or worm casting supplement until I transplant for the first time. More on that then.