Tomatoes are a summer staple in most gardens. Whether you grow your tomatoes from seed or buy starter plants at the store, these plants add something to your cooking that those watery, tasteless grocery store tomatoes generally don’t. I’m talking about flavor, of course. Nothing beats a BLT with a real tomato. If that’s your plan this summer, read on for more tips on how to get the party started.
Tomatoes From Seed
Seed grown tomatoes normally take anywhere from 6 to 14 days to germinate. They should ideally be started somewhere that the temperature stays between 60 and 85 degrees. Temperatures that are a bit colder or warmer than that can negatively affect the process.
Sunny windowsills are a great place to get the tomatoes started. Just be sure to turn seedlings around occasionally so they don’t grow up bent towards whatever light source you’re using.
You can also start your tomatoes outside if the temperatures are warm enough in your area. Just be sure that the thermostat isn’t going to dip below 50 degrees if you’re leaving them outdoors. Tomatoes generally won’t sprout if temperatures get that cold.
Last summer, I discovered that the Brandywine tomatoes sprouted the fastest. They showed up after 6 days. On the other hand, the Riesentraube variety took the longest to show up, taking approximately 13 days to germinate.
Tomatoes From Starts
All the big brand garden centers in my area had tomato transplants for sale: Lowes, Ace Hardware, Walmart, and Home Depot. So did the local garden centers I visited. All of the varieties for sale at the bigger stores came from Bonnie’s Plants. However, the selection and plant quality varied by location.
It was normally about $3.80 for a tomato plant but sometimes I found them on sale for $3 each. Of course, you can get plenty of plants out of a $3 pack of seeds and even have some leftover for next year. But in some instances, time is money and budgets have to be adjusted accordingly.
When selecting starts , you are looking for ones with healthy, green leaves and decent growth. A few wilted leaves at the base won’t hurt nor will one or two nibbled leaves. But you should definitely put back any that have mottled leaves, dry soil, or that look stunted. You also want to check them over for bugs and put back any tomato plants that are covered in them. Aphids are the scourge of many gardens. Don’t inadvertently introduce them to yours!
Transplanting Tomato Seedlings
Tomatoes are fast-growing plants and they often outgrow their original containers. Seed grown plants may have to be upgraded a few times before they can either go in the ground or into a large container. After all, there’s no sense in wasting bags of expensive potting soil on plants that may or may not survive. There’s also the fact that if you put your seedlings in the ground right away, they’re at more risk for things like bad weather and hungry animal since they can’t bounce back from those things as easily as the bigger plants can.
This year, I started some of my seedlings in a tiny 6-pack plastic container and others in toilet paper roll seed starter cups. The ones that were in the 6 packs quickly got too big for their containers. They had to be upgraded within a manner of weeks. I was using 2 to 4-inch plastic cups that were leftover from other projects but quickly ran out. I’ve since moved on to using Jiffy pots, which were about $2 for a set at Walmart (the best price I’ve found).
Transplanting seedlings requires you to be very, very careful since they are so delicate and easy to kill. The process can be done by hand. Or you can use a spoon to scoop them up and put them into their new homes. You’ll need to fill up the planter in question, scoop out a hole, tuck the seedling into it, cover it gently with soil, and then water it in good. If you’re using biodegradable pots or toilet paper rolls, you can leave them or peel them off. That’s your choice. But I usually peel them off.
Transplanting Larger Plants
Transplanting tomato starts is easier because the plants in question are half-grown and you don’t have to be anywhere near as careful with them. Once your seedlings get about 4 inches high and have good leaf growth, they can be treated accordingly. When you go to plant these into their final home, it’s a good idea to peel off a couple of the lower leaves. Then angle them so the plant is standing upright but the places where the leaves were are now under the dirt. This method promotes stronger roots stems. Make sure to water your plants and add fertilizer as needed. Then all you have to do is wait for the fruits of your labor to appear. Good luck and happy tomato gardening!