Seed Starting The Tomato Lady Way

If you start your seeds long before they can be put out into the garden, there are some really important tips to live by:

Sterile Germinating Mix
ALWAYS use a sterile seed starting mix. Don’t use leftover potting soil or garden soil. Do not reuse last year’s used germinating mix. Seed starting mix is generally a finer texture with no nasty little organisms to cause problems for your babies. You can get it in big bales or a smaller bag. Northwest Seed and Pet have a nice mix in smaller sizes.

Sterile Pots
Use new pots or clean your old pots with a 10% bleach/water mixture. This will keep the little critters at bay. I use these small gray pots and put 12 of them into a black flat with NO holes in them. My husband frowns upon dripping water onto the lighting fixture on the next shelf down.

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Light
Once your little guys come up, they will need light – lots of it. Most plants are happy with 12 to 16 hours a day. You can use a timer. Another tip: I use regular fluorescent lights. Since I use so many of them, I couldn’t even begin to afford to use grow lights. We use the four footers and hang from chains on metal shelving that we got from Costco. Keep the lights about 1/2″ from the tops of the plants. As they grow, keep adjusting them up. The lights also provide a tiny bit of warmth.

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Water
Don’t overwater, if you do it can create an environment that is a habitat for funguses and molds. Damping off is particularly ugly, your plant looks fab and then it falls over! so sad. Water when the top looks slightly dry. Which brings me to another important point, Water from below. When I seed the little trays, I use hot, hot water and pour into the flat until they start to float. The hot water is more effectively drawn up when it is hot. Thereafter, I use tepid water and fill the flats about halfway. If, after 2 days or so there is still a lot of water that didn’t get sucked up, empty it out so that the plants aren’t sitting in the water. That is also a bad thing.

Warmth
Sincethey are in the house in my dining room, they are the temperatures that my house is, around 65º to 70º

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Seed Planting
Pay attention to the seed packet instructions. Some seeds need to be covered, they need darkness to germinate, some need light and are gently pressed into the mix.

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Starting Seeds in March

This has to be the longest winter I can remember. In 2008 we had lots of snow but it didn’t stick around for 3 months as it has this year. We can’t even put up our third greenhouse yet due to snow on the ground! Did I mention it is March 3rd?

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Above are pictures of our tomato babies, as yet unborn. There are approximately 5000 seeds in the various gray cells. We bottom watered them with almost a gallon of hot water for each flat on March 1st and then the were moved to the shelves under the lights. In about 7 days they will germinate. It’s actually quite exciting checking them everyday, most times twice a day, to see if they’ve raised their tiny, green heads.

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This is a close up of some of the cells. I spent several hours every day spreading the tiny seeds in rows of 50 to 35 seeds in each cell. This year I even used tweezers to keep them orderly. Doing it over a couple days saved my back big time!

Once they get their first set of true leaves, I will transplant them into 3.5″ pots and they will go out into the greenhouses.

One very important tip when starting seeds: Use a sterile seed starting/germination mix. It will help tremendously in not getting damping off. Nothing is worse than seeing them lush and healthy one day and watching them fall over the next. Very sad. It doesn’t matter whether you are starting tomatoes or petunias in a greenhouse or inside your family home. Since I started using a sterile mix I haven’t had damping off. You can get it at NW Seed and Pet and possibly other big box stores.