Follow these steps to grow strong and healthy transplants for your tomato bed.
You will need:
• Seed starting containers. You can buy reusable plastic trays, peat pots, or pots made from cow manure. You can also use household items, like half gallon plastic milk jugs, 1 quart paper juice or milk containers (cut down to about 4” tall), or plastic cups. Whatever you choose, just make sure there are plenty of holes in the bottom for good drainage. Also make sure your containers are large enough that you won’t have to move your seedlings to a bigger pot before it’s time to transplant.
• An organic seed starting medium. Sphagnum moss is the best seed starting medium because of its impressive water retention quality.
• A cover for your containers, such as a glass or plastic dome or plastic wrap. Just make sure the sunlight can get in and warm the soil.
• Fish fertilizer or fish and kelp fertilizer, or another organic liquid fertilizer. Visit Brekke’s Town and Country Store in Ames for organic fertilizers.
• A spray bottle.
• Tomato seeds!
Plant your seeds:
1. Fill your containers about a third full with your planting medium.
2. Moisten the medium with warm water so that it is about as wet as a damp sponge. Do not over-moisten.
3. Using your finger or the end of a pencil, create a small indentation in the medium and drop 3 seeds. Sprinkle some dry medium on the top until the seeds are completely covered with a fine layer. Spray with a little more water.
4. Cover your containers, creating a greenhouse that will trap heat and moisture. If your greenhouse does not trap enough moisture, be sure to check the medium daily and water if it gets too dry.
5. Place the containers in a warm place. No light is necessary yet.
After the seedlings have emerged:
1. Remove the plastic cover, or open the vents if you are using a dome.
2. Move the containers to a very sunny location with southern exposure or under fluorescent grow lights.
3. Rotate the containers one quarter turn each day so that the plants grow upright. There is no need to rotate if you are using grow lights.
4. Keep the planting medium moist, but not soggy.
Your seedlings will emerge with two round “baby” leaves. The true leaves emerge later and look like tomato plant leaves. Once two sets of true leaves appear:
1. If more than one seed has sprouted in your individual containers, remove the weakest from each group, leaving the one strongest seedling in each container. Do this by pinching off the weakest with your fingernail because pulling it out by the roots may damage the delicate roots of your strong seedling.
2. Fertilize with a diluted fish or fish and kelp fertilizer. The fertilizer should be diluted to at least half of the recommend usage for vegetable plants.
3. Once the seedlings are three weeks old, fertilize full strength every one or two weeks until transplanting time.
4. As the seedlings grow, fill the containers with more seed starting medium, keeping the soil level just below the lowest of the true leaves. This will ensure strong roots. It is ok to bury the baby leaves.
Once the plants are 6-8” tall, they are ready to move outdoors.