Except this year.
And I am missing it!
Every year, from February to April, my hands are usually very busy sowing and growing tomato plants from seed in my greenhouse. I begin in February with planning out dates, looking at the required timing for each seed type, and doing other tasks such as gathering up my seedling soil mix, seedling trays, and sowing tools.
Usually, in March, some of the seed sowing begins! I get all my seedling trays prepared by washing them appropriately, selecting locations on shelves in the greenhouse, getting my seedling heat mats lined out as well, and hanging seedling grow light fixtures above some of the seedling tray locations.
But this year, I am not going through this set-up and sow process (except for some flower seeds) because, for a period of time in April, I will be away due to some travel planned. To be away and not be here at my home to monitor the sprouted and growing seedlings in my greenhouse would be disastrous because seeds require constant moisture and other small steps for growing success.
If it is your first-time growing tomato plants from seed, remember that once the seed is planted in your seedling mix and waiting to germinate and sprout from the soil, you cannot simple walk away and forget about them. Each day, you should monitor the moisture of the seedling mix, and if the soil is dry, remoisten carefully. I usually use a watering can with a shower head type spout which gently flows out water as I carefully move the watering can over the top of the seedling trays to apply just enough moisture to keep the soil slightly moist. I often move the trays off the heating mats, water, and let it drain, then return the trays onto the heating mat under the grow lights.
Then we wait. We wait for that first little green sprout to appear above the soil mix. It is always a little boost when I see it there, and it gives me a feeling of happiness. I know it sounds a bit corny, or silly, but it truly does. Soon that baby sprout will grow into a seedling. During this growing phase, tomato seedlings are just like babies, they require care and watching.
If you ignore seedlings by leaving them for a week at a time, or even a weekend, they will surely dry up and wither. There are some exceptions to this perhaps, like using clear covers to maintain a bit of humidity and moisture, but my style of sowing and growing tomatoes from seed involves reviewing them each day and monitoring their needs. Do they need a bit of moisture, do they need a new location in the greenhouse to receive more sunlight, do they need to be removed off the heat mats? All of these questions come to mind as I watch my baby seedlings start growing.
Some seeds require anywhere from ten weeks before your last spring frost date to two weeks before your frost date to be sown indoors. Here in Connecticut, I use a timeframe of about May 12 to serve as my last spring frost date, and then I count backwards on the calendar and mark each timing. For example, 10 weeks would fall on March 3rd, and 8 weeks before the May frost date would fall on St. Patty’s Day, March 17th.
Let’s take for example an amazing tomato plant I grew from seed for a few years now called Oxheart. It grows tomatoes the shape of a heart and the fruit grows to three-pound sizes! They are incredible. The seed packet for Oxheart tomatoes indicates they may be started anywhere from 8 to 10 weeks before your last spring frost date in your state. You need to know what the estimated frost date is for your state and count backwards. Once I asked the seed company where I obtain my seeds from why some packets have such a long span, for example some packets will say sow the seeds three to eight weeks before the frost date. That is a long span, right? Eight weeks would be around mid-March while three weeks before falls around the end of April.
Their response was that it is because they provide a range. And you may go for some date in the middle of that range. Due to local climates, planting conditions, temperature, water, light, soil make up and more, all plays into how long it takes to grow your seedlings. Also, if you prefer more mature plants to transplant, you may start your seeds on the earlier side of that range. If you may be putting your seedlings into a cold frame outdoors, you may be starting later. I think for the past few years, I started them on the early side of the range and ended up with plants about the size big enough to put into one gallon nursery containers. And I’m happy with that size. One other thought is if you start on the early side of the range, you will need to pot up your seedlings into larger pots as they get bigger before they may be transplanted outdoor at the end of May. Just like babies needing new clothes as they grow. If you prefer not to pot up and have smaller plants, just start your seed sowing on the later end of the range indicated on the seed packet. But don’t go beyond the last week indicated on the packet. Say it is two to four weeks before the frost date, if you want till one week before the frost date, you may create a situation where your plants will not produce fruit on time. The reason you are starting the seeds indoors is because the growing season outdoors is not long enough to direct sow tomato plants due to our climate. So, you must start them early indoors to get started, then transplant after danger of spring frost and when it is warm enough outdoors.
To keep track of the timing on when to sow your seeds, I have created charts and I also note the dates on my wall calendar. This I have found to be very useful and helpful. Take the time, if you are starting seeds for the first time, to look at the “weeks before your spring frost date to sow” and mark the date on a wall calendar. Start with the expected spring frost date for your state, mark that and count backwards.
Memorial Day is the timing I use to plant the tomato plant outdoors. So, think about that span, anywhere from March till May, you are working on growing your seedlings and getting them prepared for the great outdoors. I like growing various tomatoes. Many are heirlooms which are some of the most delicious tomatoes you will ever eat. Some of my heirloom seeds are sown six to eight weeks before the frost date, some are sown four to six weeks before, and some are two to four weeks before. I suppose those I may sow around the end of April may make it on my sowing list because I will be back by that time from my travel, and let’s be honest here, I can’t resist sowing some – I just have to!
All of the tomato plants I start from seed usually are grown in container gardens at my home in fabric grow bags, large patio pots, and wooden large planters. I enjoy watching them grow and usually have to keep the squirrels away or pick the fruit before they fully ripen otherwise those little wild animals in my yard end up taking a bite or two. And of course, I’ve sold many tomato seedling, otherwise known as starter plants, to friends and family. They already told me they are going to miss my tomato plants this year. I don’t blame them!
And it is also important to remember that everyone has their own unique process and style to sowing and growing. I’m sure more advanced growers would have their own tricks of the trade perhaps, but for me, this calendaring process has worked out. You may find many more posts about my journey with tomato seeds on my blog site called, http://www.ContainerCrazyCT.com. Please feel free anytime to ask questions. Oh, and by the way, I have seed packets available if you are local and interested.
Thank you for visiting and enjoy your weekend. Below are photos of some of my tomatoes!
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook, CT
You may find me also on http://www.WorkshopsCT.com and http://www.ContainerGardensCT.com