Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tomato Babies

Now what's that old saying?  You can't be too rich, too thin or have too many tomato starts....right? That goes for peppers, too!

Here in North Idaho I have learned not to put the tomatoes out in the garden until June 1st and still there are nights that I have to cover them up due to sub-freezing lows.  I usually start them from seed the first day of Spring. 

My favorite medium to start tomatoes and peppers in are those little peat pellets that you have to expand with water before they are soft enough to place a seed in them.  We have a very small shower stall in our basement bathroom and I put a small space heater in there.  It doesn't take much to heat the stall up to 90F degrees and that is where I place my tomatoes and peppers.  The germinate very quickly in this hot environment but you have to have them in covered containers like the mini greenhouses you buy at any big box store like Walmart or Home Depot or else they will dry out. 

As soon as the seeds emerge, I move them to a sunny, south-facing window sill.  Waiting to move them is not a good idea because in the darkness of the bathroom they will grow very long, and leggy QUICKLY.  Once they develop their first true leaves beyond their seed leaves I transplant them to larger peat pots which are about 4 inches tall and 4 inches wide.  I place the peat pellet at the bottom of the pot and then add seed starting soil until it reaches the base of seed leaves.

The plants develop great root systems in this soft soil and grow quite quickly.  On warmer days, I bring them outside to help harden them up.  I will leave them out all night as long as it doesn't fall much below 50F during the night.  By June, I have nice healthy home-grown starts which are not root-bound like a lot of the nursery-raised ones that I have purchased.  On average my plants are smaller than the ones I have bought at the store but once planted in the garden they grow faster than the store bought ones and end up producing more fruit, too.


  1. I bought a 4 pack of Celebrity this year and the rest of my tomatoes I grew myself. The ones I grew are at least twice the size of the store bought tomatoes. Now this may be just that they are different varieties but I doubt it. I have three varieties that I grew myself and all three are growing great.

    1. Hi Becky,
      I did do an experiment with Brandywine tomatoes last growing season. I bought a big plant at our local grocery store that was 1 1/2 ft tall and planted my little starts that were about 8" tall and they outgrew the store-bought Brandywine's by at least 50%.
      The store-bought ones had huge stems but were terribly root bound.
      Maybe I'll try it again this year but be more scientific about it and do some measuring of plants and fruit yields.