Growing tomatoes is just as much fun as it is rewarding. Tomatoes need sunshine, lots of it, and warmth. They do not like to be wet and cold. Other than that, tomato plants are very forgiving. I like to start tomatoes from seeds and watch the miracle of life to develop. Here is how I start our tomatoes from seeds.
Where to get tomato seeds
I like to grow heirloom tomato varieties, they just seem to have so much more flavour. Since our weather conditions are very unique I like to buy the seeds locally because plants have to adjust to the climate they are in. I get most of our tomato seeds from Caseys heirloom tomatoes in Airdrie. I also make sure the plants have a short growing time (days to maturity), preferably less than 70 days. See what Heirloom tomato varieties we grow in a northern garden.
When to start tomato seeds
There are different opinions about this out there. Some gardeners like to start very early. For most plants it’s written on the package when to start them. I am not very patient when it comes to planting tomatoes, but every year I start a bit later. As much as I like to have ripe tomatoes in July, it does not help much to start them to early. I have gone with a compromise, which work well: I would start a few plants early and transplant them into their final pot long before they can be outside. I start the rest of the plants about 6 weeks before they can go into the greenhouse. That way we do have tomatoes in July :). But our house is not overgrown with tomatoes for too long.
What pots and potting soil to use
For tomatoes (and peppers too) I like the (free) yogurt containers. It seems like they have the optimal size for those plants. First I make some holes in the bottom for drainage, then fill them about half full with potting soil (You will see later why just half full). A friend of mine recommended the Sunshine brand potting soil. So far I am very happy with it, but I have had success with other brands too. Just make sure it is a loose, light soil. Now I plant two to three seeds.
A sunny window or grow lights
For germination a seed needs moisture and warmth, not so much light. The top of a fridge might be a better place than a cold but bright window. As soon as they are up, young plants need a lot of light. My husband built us a simple grow light similar to this one on YouTube. It really helps to have some more space for starting plants, but even with the grow light, the plants take over our house long before the frost outside will be gone.
How to label plants
Labeling is important so I know what varieties I am actually growing. I would never remember them all. It does not matter what kind of labels to use. I do have some that I bought especially for labeling, but a plastic spoon works just as well. If I have many plants of the same kind, I just label the plastic containers.
Transplanting tomato seedlings
Tomatoes belong to the nightshade plant family along with eggplants, peppers, and potatoes. There is a unique thing about nightshade plants: they grow roots along the stem. This is important! In order to have a healthy, not leggy, tomato plant it is good to plant the seedling deep into the soil. If I had started tomatoes in smaller containers, or bought seedlings from a greenhouse, I would transplant them as soon as they are a little taller into a bigger pot and bury as much as I can of the stem. Sometimes the plant is so leggy that the leaves only start at the top of the plant. This shows that the plant did not have enough light. Transplant it to a bigger pot anyways by burying the stem, give it more light, and it will start to get stronger and healthier.
You see, since my seedlings are already in a bigger container I save myself some work ;). Once my little plants germinate and grow taller than the container, I gently cut off the lower leaves, and fill the pot with potting soil to the top. In a few more weeks they will be ready to go into the ground or their final pot. Read all about transplanting tomatoes in the ground here.
I am sure there are more ways to start tomatoes from seeds. This way has worked for me. Share your way in a comment.