A lot of people grow tomatoes from seedlings or transplants and that is definitely a great way to go if the variety you want is available, but many unique and interesting tomato varieties are only available from seed. If you want to grow those varieties, you’ll have to learn how to grow tomatoes from seeds. It can be challenging and takes more time than growing from seedlings but it’s rewarding and fun!
There are an amazing variety of tomatoes that you can grow. Check with local farmers or grow experts to find out which varieties of tomatoes are best for your area. The seed packets should list the days to maturity, which may help to determine the type of seed that you wish to plant. Fewer days to maturity may be more suitable for climates with shorter growing seasons.
TYPE OF SEEDS
You can choose either hybrid or open pollinated tomato seeds. Hybrid seeds are a cross between two different types of tomatoes, usually in order to obtain specific characteristics such as disease resistance or better flavor. Seeds harvested from hybrids may produce fruit that varies from that of the parent plants. Open-pollinated seeds are better to be saved because they maintain the characteristics of their parent fruits.
WHEN TO PLANT
If you are planting in a region with a short growing season you may want to plant your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks prior to the last frost and transfer the seedlings to your outdoor garden once the temperatures are safe. If you live in a warmer climate, start the seeds 6 weeks prior to daytime temperatures reaching the high 70s and nighttime temperatures dropping no lower than 55°.
Use a lightweight, organic potting soil that is weed and pest free (regular garden soil does not fit the bill) to start your seeds. The most important thing is that your soil is rich with nutrients. Try using organic compost or aged manure to give a dense nutritional profile for your garden bed or larger growing pots. We like FoxFarm Ocean Forest Organic Potting Soil
You can start your seeds in just about anything. Yogurt containers work great. Make sure to poke a hole in the bottom and use a tray underneath to catch any excess water that drains out.
SOWING AND SPROUTING
Sow your seeds according to the instructions on the packet, usually ¼ to ½ inch deep. Be sure that your potting soil is evenly moist and that the seeds do not dry out after they have gotten wet or they will die. You should notice your first sprouts in 5 to 14 days. To help ensure that your seeds get even moisture, try covering them in plastic wrap. Remove the wrap once seedlings begin to sprout.
Seedlings need lots of direct light once they have germinated – 12 to 16 hours a day. An indoor grow light like the iPower Fluorescent Grow Light System for Seed Plant Starting may be needed if your home does not receive sufficient exposure to the sun. Be sure to rotate any seedlings you place in a window daily to ensure even growth.
Water plants consistently, usually about 2 times per week. Don’t let the soil dry out between waterings but also try not to overwater them. Keep water off the leaves to avoid disease.
When the seedlings have grown 4 leaves, they are ready for a larger pot. Use the same light potting mix. Carefully remove and transfer the seedlings, burying the entire stem up to the leaves under soil. This will help it to develop a strong root structure. Once the plants are 8 to 10 inches high, you should repeat this process or transfer them outdoors if weather permits.
TRANSFERRING PLANTS OUTDOORS
Once your nighttime soil temperatures are 55 to 60 degrees and daytime temperatures are in the 60s you can transplant your tomatoes outdoors. Introduce them slowly to the colder temperatures before sticking them in the ground to avoid shock. Place them outdoors for a couple hours at a time and then move them back inside. Increase the amount of time they spend outdoors each day, gradually for about a week.
Once your tomatoes are ready to transfer to your outdoor garden, it is best to choose an overcast day if possible. This will help to keep the plants from drying out. Water the plants thoroughly before transplanting. Use a compost tea if possible. Clip off the lowest set of leaves on each plant. Gently remove them from their pots and cover them in freshly turned and composted soil all the way up to the lowest set of leaves. Water them well. Be sure to space each plant 2 to 3 feet apart in an area of the garden that receives as much direct sunlight each day as possible.
Use organic mulch to help retain moisture.
Tomato plants like lots of nutrients. Use organic fertilizer like fish emulsion or compost tea every two weeks. We like Neptune’s Harvest Organic Hydrolized Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer.
PRUNING AND SUPPORT
Indeterminate tomato plants may require pruning and support stakes to ensure great results. There are lots of affordable tomato cage options online.
Harvest fruit from indeterminate tomato plants regularly to maximize production. Determinate tomatoes produce all of their fruit at once and are done for the season.