Starting tomato seeds

It’s time to start tomato seeds in Oklahoma.

Why start your own tomato seeds?

Because you can control what goes into your plants. If you want to grow tomatoes organically, starting seeds gives you control from start to finish.

'Honey Drop' tomato from Hudson Valley Seed Co. is the best and sweetest cherry tomato I've ever eaten.
‘Honey Drop’ tomato from Hudson Valley Seed Co. is the best and sweetest cherry tomato I’ve ever eaten.

Who can argue with that? Why would anyone want to?

Repurposed containers for seed planting. On top of the containers, you can see the grit I used that year.
Repurposed containers for seed planting. On top of the containers, you can see the grit I used that year. Some of the top plants are tomatoes, and others are peppers. If you’re going to start tomatoes, you might as well start peppers too. They both grow at about the same rate and require the same conditions.

How to start tomato seeds.

Starting tomato seeds may seem hard. I was once intimidated by the process, but it’s really  not. You do need certain equipment though.

Seed starting station Bill and I built for an article for Fiskars.
Seed starting station Bill and I built for an article for Fiskars. I’ve used it ever since to start my seeds. Each shelf has two lights, one pink and one green to grow the plants and give them plenty of light. On the bottom shelf int he middle I have tomato  plants along with peppers and some flowers. On the left, those may be leeks. I’m always trying something new.

Lights

You can build a seed starting station like mine, or you can grow seeds in windows, but you’ll need additional light unless you have a greenhouse-type garden room. I don’t have a garden room. I live in a log house that is quite dark so when I started growing my own plants, I first put lights under my windowsills on the east side of my living room. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. I wish I had a photo of this arrangement, but I don’t.

Then, Bill and I built a seed-starting station that I still use. I can also use the greenhouse, but I want consistent heat for tomatoes. You can use warm and cool lights, grow lights or I’m told, just regular, fluorescent light bulbs. I haven’t noticed that plants care all that much. However, I use full-spectrum pink and green lights for my plants because I think it’s best. I bought mine at a box store. I think this Dual Lamp Grow Light Tankuy Profession Plant Lamp Lights 36LED 4 Levels Timing(3H/6H/12H) with 360 Degree Flexible Gooseneck for Indoor Plants Small Growing Tent Home Hydroponic Garden Greenhouse is cool for a smaller operation. It’s flexible so as the seeds grow you can move the light further away. LED lights seem to be the newest kids on the block, but I still have my old lights, and they work fine. My shelves are at different heights so that I can move the plants further away from the lights as the plants grow bigger.

These seeds are covered with plastic and placed on heat mats until they sprout and start growing.
Seeds are covered with plastic and placed on heat mats until they sprout and start growing.

Heat mats. These make starting seeds for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant easy. Invest in them. You’ll thank me. This larger heat mat, iPower 48″ x 20″ Large Warm Hydroponic Seedling Heat Mat and 68-108°F Digital Thermostat Control Combo Set for Seed Germination, will hold four regular seed trays. The smaller ones, Seedling Heat Mat 10″ x 20″, Durable Waterproof Hydroponic Seedling Plant Mat – Seed Starter Propagation for Seedling, Cloning, Cutting, Rooting, and Germination in Home Garden by YONTEX, each hold one seed tray. There are now fancy ones with thermostats, but I’ve never used them. They cost quite a bit more.

If your house is warm, you can remove the heat mats after the seeds germinate and grow beyond the first two leaves called cotyledon.

Seedling planted in recycled ice cream containers after I punched holes in them.
Seedling planted in recycled ice cream containers after I punched holes in them.

Seed trays or recycled containers. You’ll need something to hold your seeds and potting soil. You can use recycled containers that are sterilized or new seed trays. I’m trying to find some square seed trays made of terra cotta. If anyone has a source, I’d appreciate it so much. You can scatter seeds on seed trays, or place them into the individual cells. Just remember, each seed should be covered at twice the depth of the seed–unless the seed requires light to germinate. Look at your seed package for details. Tomato seeds like to covered with soil.

Clear plastic cover. Some seed trays like the 9GreenBox – Seed Starter Germination Kit have a plastic cover. You can also use Glad Press’n Seal Wrap to cover your seed containers. Both work fine, but you need that build up of heat and moisture to get seeds to germinate. I like Glad Press’n Seal wrap because it sticks to the containers. Once the seeds germinate, you can remove the plastic covers to let the plants and potting soil breathe.

Potting Soil. Use a good, low-nitrogen potting soil. Seeds don’t need fertilizer to get growing. In fact, I don’t give mine any organic fertilizer until they are transplanted into four-inch pots, and are growing into transplanting size. Granted my transplants don’t look like bodybuilders like the ones in the stores, but they soon catch up with their burlier counterparts.

I buy my potting soil from a variety of places, but I like to start seeds in TLC Nursery’s potting soil. There are specialized seed-starting soils, but often, they are extremely fine and float when watered. You can water from below, but I find this inefficient. Also, if you live in the city and have chlorinated water, you will either want to let your water sit for 24 hours or use distilled water to start seeds. I live in the country on well water so I don’t have this problem.

Repurposed containers for seed planting. On top of the containers, you can see the grit I used that year.
Repurposed containers for seed planting. On top of the containers, you can see the grit I used that year.

Grit I’m a big believer in grit. I use small chicken grit on top of my pots in the greenhouse and when I start seeds I think it keeps the soil evenly moist and helps deter fungus gnats from laying eggs in the soil. I buy the small grit from our local farm store. I like the pink grit personally, but white limestone grit is fine too.

Seeds. You can find tomato seeds so many places because gardeners love their tomatoes. Which tomatoes am I trying this year? So far, I’m growing some seed Burpee Seed sent me. I also bought tomato seed from Hudson Valley Seed Co., Seed Savers, Baker Creek Seeds, Botanical Interests and Renee’s Seeds. What varieties did I buy? Well, I’ll update you in a later post. I’ll have to research what I’m growing. Note: I’m growing some weird ones because I can buy my favorite determinate standards like ‘Super Sioux,’ ‘Whopper,’ ‘Supersteak,’ etc., as organic plants from TLC Nursery. They buy from an organic farmer.

Also, don’t worry that not every seed germinates and grows into a larger plant. You’ll still have plenty of tomato plants. Focus on the ones that worked well. In a few weeks, if you started your tomatoes in seeds starting trays, you’ll need to move them to four-inch pots. Keep those under lights until you begin the hardening off process a couple of week before you plant them in the garden outside. If you start your own tomato seeds, you’ll have enought plants to share with family and friends. A packet of seed will grow so many more plants than you can buy at the store. They also won’t be treated with Miracle Gro unless you use it.

Remember, it’s all about controlling what goes into your body.

Okay, that’s all for now. Go start your tomato seeds. Ask questions. I’m behind you. You can do it!

 

12 Comments

  1. I’ve found that putting tomato seeds in small flower pots and putting the pots in a tray and the tray in a black sack and the whole caboodle on top of the kitchen cupboards works a treat.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Lucy! I bet that does work a treat! Your house must be warm on top of those cabinets. Happy Spring!

  2. Jennie says:

    I never knew to let my tap water sit for 24 hours before watering in my seeds. I learn something new every year. Thank you!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Jennie, you’re so welcome! Chlorine does sometimes affect seed germination. Happy Spring!

  3. Carol Michel says:

    Yes ma’am. Good advice. I will try to start my seeds this week!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Did you get them started Carol?

  4. Richard Smith says:

    Thanks Dee for another helpful post. I’ve been buying garden plants the past couple years at an Amish garden center in Clarita (OK). They offer a variety of healthy looking plants and it’s an interesting place to visit if you’re ever in the area. I hope though to start more of my own plants from seeds and cuttings and your advisories are appreciated. A greenhouse is still in the planning stage and I’d hoped to do propagating there (our house is small). Might it be practical to heat enclosed portions of a seed starting station like yours, or might the heat mats be enough for plants like tomatoes?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Richard, if I ever get to Clarita, I’m going to visit that Amish garden center. Sounds fun. I don’t heat my seed-sowing station. I just use heat mats and keep the house at its regular 69 degrees in winter. The important things are the heat mats and the lights. HTH~~Dee

  5. Julie Watson says:

    Hi Dee, I’ve been in the Garden centers and have seen the red and green colored tomato cages. Does color help the tomatoes grow or are they just for looks?

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Julie, and thanks for the question. The color of the cages has no effect on how the tomatoes grow. They’re just for prettiness sake. They are quite pretty though. I have several in different colors in my kitchen garden.~~Dee

  6. Dee Nash says:

    HI Sonia, I hear ya! I can’t wait either. They sell some very nice seed starting stations on Gardeners Supply I noticed this morning. I went over there to buy pea fences and saw some good ones.

  7. Sonia says:

    Can’t wait to have that first homegrown tomato! Love your seed starting station!

Comments are closed.