This year I decided to grow Heirloom tomatoes. I not only wanted to grow many varieties I had never tasted, it also puts you in the situation of having to learn to grow from seed. Most if not all of the more interesting varieties will never be found in a store in seedling form.
Growin’g Ain’t Easy
Some of you may know, that tomatoes aren’t the easiest thing to grow from seed and are by no means considered a “beginner” seed started vegetable. To have the varieties I wanted, to taste these amazing, colorful tomatoes never even heard of, I had to take a shot at it.
The extent of my seed starting abilities has been limited to, how shall I say this? Squash. I have only ever grown Squash from seed. Squash are, in my opinion and experience, the quintessential garden vegetable for someone who has never tried planting any kind of seed before.
They will germinate in less than a week. Germinate is the fancy word for “sprout” by the way. With very little care, you will have squash running out your ears in a very short time. You will try to give it away to everyone in your family as well as to people you have never met before. You will even give it away to people at work that you do not like.
Learn the Hard Way
I had not tried a garden in the past few years due to different reasons and past failures. I went into it this year head on. Along the way I learned some very important things, that I will hopefully implement next year, about starting my own tomato seeds.
Starting seeds can be tedious, and many first timers fret over unnecessary details, while other important details are left neglected and can be the difference in a successful germination or a disheartening termination.
So Here Are The Details:
DO order your seeds early if you plan on ordering online. Especially if you plan on getting the good ones. I am talking like get them in January. (Same with chickens by the way. Chickens sell out too.) You never know when a global pandemic is going to burst out and cause everyone and their brother to go seed crazy and buy everything, everywhere leaving you with boring red Celebrity.
DON’T wait to order your seeds. Plan on having them at least 6 weeks before the day you plan on putting the seedlings in the ground. Go ahead and order them early, trust me.
DO Start your seeds early. Inside your house. On a handmade custom PVC seed starting shelf. Next to the bay window in your dining room. Just kidding! But do start them early. Preferably in a controlled environment. You can start dozens of seed in a very small space. There are so many things you can start seeds in, I will not even touch this subject.
DON’T Start your seeds too late. At least here in Alabama. Your seeds will just be getting mature enough to flower and set fruit about the time the heat sets in. If they’re not watered correctly, they will really suffer in the heat. The plants will also have a rough time setting fruit if they set any at all once the temperatures hit 90.
DO Use a store-bought seed starting mix or peat pellets. Unless you own a vegetable stand or a small farm, you will not go broke buying seed starting mix for the amount of seeds you will realistically need. Let’s hold it right here for a minute. I said realistically. It is tradition to buy way more seeds than you need or have space for. Buying seed you will never grow is fun. Buying seed you will grow into something you family will never eat is also a common practice.
DON’T try to make your own seed starting mix to save a little money. At least not until you understand the consistency of the mix to make it light enough to be effective and still hold water without being too wet or dense. There are many, many misleading sites out there about seed starting mix and the proper ratios. It is best to start out with something that is proven. Seed starting mix should be light and fluffy. Some people have good luck with potting soil and other things but there’s too much at risk and not enough time to be guessing at this stuff.
DO Dampen your seed starting mix before you put it in whatever container you decide to start seeds in. Most seed starting mixes contain Peat and if its very dry it will actually bead off the water and prevent it from being absorbed into your mix therefore coming in contact with the seed.
DO Water your seed starts from the top with a spray bottle. A lot of YouTube and Seed starting instructionals on the web will tell you to water from the bottom so you don’t disturb the tiny seeds. With a spray bottle shooting a fine mist on them you will not have to worry about the seeds being disturbed.
DON’T Start off watering from the bottom. Watering from the bottom tends to get your container too wet if you let it soak up too much. The bottom will stay wet much longer than the top. The seed should be in the top 1/8 to ¼ inch of the seed starting mix and bottom watering may never even touch your seed. The seed needs actual contact with the damp soil to germinate so spraying the top will get your seed wet and allow germination. Once the seed sprouts, the root should be long enough to reach the water from bottom watering.
DO Let the seed starting mix dry out. Try to get a seed starting mix that isn’t a dark color. Some people use potting soil and it is hard to tell sometimes whether the top is damp or dry because of the color being black or dark brown. With store bought seed starting mix, when it dries out , you can definitely tell because it is very light brown compared to the dark brown it will be when damp.
Letting the top dry out will prevent many problems. If the seed stays too wet for too long it will rot. While the seed is germinating, allowing the surface to dry can prevent mold growing on the surface which can cause them to not germinate at all. Drying out should also help prevent damping off. Lots of bad things can happen to seeds in the damp, damp earth.
DO Be Patient. It seems like an eternity before the little sprouts come out of their shell and show their heads through the soil. Once they do though, the growth is slow at first , but if everything is just right and sometimes when it’s not just right, they will take off into full fledged tomato plants
Well, there you have it. This is just a few of the things I learned while starting my seeds. This should get anyone started and at least up to the point of germination.
Most of the things I learned from starting seeds this year were mistakes that slowed my starts, diminished my germination rate, and downright killed my little baby tomato plants completely. It’s a heartbreaking thing.
There aren’t too many things more satisfying than slicing up an 18 oz. Dr Wyche Yellow Tomato that you grew from a seed tinier than a letter on this page.
Sure hope this helps you out! Good luck with your seed starting!