Did you see the news about the blizzard on the East Coast yesterday? Here in New Jersey we had our biggest snow storm of the year. About a foot of snow with a nice inch of freezing rain on top to make the whole thing a delightful treat to shovel. And now today, the town road guys just came by with a backhoe and cleaned up my road. That means that they pushed a giant mountain of snow onto my front lawn that probably won’t melt until June but that’s okay because today I’m going to blog about gardening.
You see last week I started my tomato seeds indoors. I like to start tomatoes from seed for the vegetable garden every year in the middle of winter. When you start your tomatoes from seeds there are a lot of advantages.
First advantage is that you don’t to wait until the weather is warm. You can do it about 8 weeks or so before the last frost in your area. This way when it’s nice out you have your little plants ready to go in the ground. You won’t waste as much of the growing season.
Plant selection is definitely much better when you start from seeds. Now if you’re going to buy small tomato plants from a big box store or a nursery, you can only choose from what they have. If you’re looking to try some heirloom tomato that you heard has amazing flavor then you might be out of luck if the stores only carry the basic tomato varieties. Or if someone comes in a buys most of the healthy plants and they’re not going to get new stock at the store for a week or two you’re also out of luck.
Going through a seed catalog in the middle of winter is always fun. I usually sit with a nice cup of coffee and new pad and a sharp pencil and make the decisions that will determine what my vegetable garden is going to look like this year. Planning the garden is an enjoyable way to spend a winter day. Well it’s an enjoyable time until my wife sees my plans and tells me that “you’re not a farmer, you don’t need all that.”
Another benefit is that seeds are much cheaper than plants. Even if you buy an expensive seed packet for $4.95, you’re still getting about 20 seeds. Now that’s bang for the buck. You can’t get 20 plants for anywhere near that price. And you can get seeds for much cheaper than $4.95. Some are even free if you start saving seeds from last years garden or get involved in seed swaps.
Here’s what you’ll need to start tomato seeds indoors. I got some shop lights from a big box store for about $10 each. They’re 4 feet long and hold two fluorescent bulbs. For the light bulbs you should look for the kind that are marked “daylight”. The ones I got are Daylight 6500K. Now you aren’t going to get any plants to grow to the point where they fruit with a fluorescent bulb but they are fine for starting tomato seeds.
Next I get some plastic or paper cups and fill them with moist seed starting soil. I empty the package of soil into a container and add enough water to make mud balls that aren’t dripping all over the place. Too much water is just going to make a big mess. Gently press the damp soil into the cups and then plant the seeds. You should follow the instructions on the seed packet about planting depth. For most tomatoes it’s usually about 1/4” deep.
The most important thing to remember to get good germination is to keep the seeds moist. I take a piece of plastic wrap and cover the top of each cup to keep the moisture in. You can put a rubber band around the top of the cup to hold the plastic wrap on.
Place the cups under the lights in a warm place and in a few days to a week you should have tiny little tomato plants. Tomato seeds like warmth like from a seed starting mat. I put my seeds in the laundry room which is also where the furnace is. It’s nice and warm in there.
Once you see these little plants poke a hole in the plastic. The sealed cup is great for keeping the moisture in for germination but your seedlings need a little air circulation. A day or two after germination, I’ll take the plastic wrap completely off.
Use a liquid fertilizer when the second set of leaves form on your seedlings. And in about 8 weeks I’ll move these tomato plants outside to the vegetable garden.
And there’s even more snow in the forecast, it’s okay because I’m gardening away here indoors. And I have another shop light or two in my garage and may even start some peppers and eggplant next.