How to Start Tomatoes from Seeds

How to Start Tomatoes from Seeds
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How to Start Tomatoes from Seeds

Tips for Planting Delicious, Homegrown Tomatoes

Growing vegetable seeds isn’t difficult if you provide them with the conditions they need, and you use the right equipment. There are many advantages to growing tomato seeds, and the most important is the sheer number of tomato varieties you will have available if you are willing to grow from seed.

Choosing Your Tomato Seeds

The first thing to keep in mind when making your tomato seed selection is where you live.  If you are in the deep south or another warm-climate area with humid summer nights, you'll want to grow varieties that are heat tolerant and resistant to blossom drop.  

If your growing season is short, as it is in the far north, you will want to choose an early variety to ensure yourself the best harvest. Early season tomatoes ripen quickly, typically being ready to pick within four months of sowing the seeds. 

You will also need to consider when you want to harvest, all at once or gradually over the season. If you enjoy canning the fruit, a determinate variety is your best choice. These plants grow as a 3- to 4-foot-tall bush and set all their fruit within a few weeks. 

If you want to enjoy your tomatoes throughout the season, choose an indeterminate variety, which grows as a vine and needs staking. And for a little of both, consider the new semi-determinate varieties such as Sweet ‘n’ Neat Scarlet Improved and Orange Paruche. These plants stay small enough to grow in containers yet keep bearing all season long.

Starting Your Tomato Seeds

Tomatoes are best started indoors five to seven weeks before the last anticipated frost date. The seedlings can then be transplanted into your garden anywhere from two to four weeks after the last frost date.

The easiest way to start your seeds is with Park Seed’s Bio Dome. Park Seed's Bio Dome seed starter is a great way to sow tomato seeds, because each bio sponge has a pre-drilled hole you just drop one seed into — no need to thin seedlings, no wasting of seeds! 

You can use either the original 60-cell Bio Dome, or the 18-cell Jumbo Bio Dome, which grows big stocky seedlings ready to transplant right into your garden. You can also start your seeds in Jiffy Pots or plastic four packs if you prefer.

Tomatoes like to be warm, so place your Bio Dome or pots in a room that will stay at 70 to 75 degrees. Alternatively, use a seedling heat mat to keep your growing tomatoes warm.  

As soon as you see the first sprouts, usually in three to eight days, move the seedling to a sunny window, or use a grow light. Your seedlings need 14 to 16 hours of light per day for the fastest growth. They will do well in a sunny window if you protect them from cool drafts.

Hardening Off Your Tomato Plants

Ten days before transplanting, you’ll need to start “hardening off” your young plants by setting them outdoors in a lightly shaded area for an hour or two. The next day, give them a longer visit outside until they remain outdoors overnight, still in their pots. 

If a cold spell hits, bring them indoors again to wait for the temperature to rise. Remember the plants will dry out more quickly outdoors especially if there is a wind, so be prepared to water more frequently.

Prepare the planting area in the garden by adding a generous amount of compost and even some fertilizer made for tomatoes. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, so start them out with plenty of nutrients. Cover the soil with a tarp to keep weeds from growing until you are ready to plant.

Transplanting Your Tomato Plants to the Garden

When planting, bury the stem almost up to the lowest set of leaves, even if this means covering up several extra inches. If your plants have a long, tall, spindly stem with leaves widely spaced, you can plant them horizontally in the ground right up to the first set of leaves — the plant will root all along its stem. 

Dig a long trench a few inches below the soil, lay the plant carefully into it as if you’re burying it, and then gently angle the stem upward. The only part showing should be the very top, with at least four to six leaves above ground.

Strip the underground leaves off the plant and cover up the entire length of “leggy” stem. Be careful not to bend the stem so sharply that it breaks, and then bank it with soil and pat the earth down firmly around it.

As soon as your tomatoes are in the ground, mulch heavily around the plants to keep weeds down and moisture in the soil. If you’re growing the plants in straight rows, plastic mulch is far easier and more effective than loose mulch (such as straw or pine bark).

In just a few short weeks, you will be enjoying delicious fresh tomatoes from your garden.

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