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Tomatoes in Tight Spaces: Sprouting the Seeds

Featured Article

By Amalia
Vegetables Division

Growing plants from seed has always seemed a little too scary for me to attempt, so you can imagine my trepidation at the thought of trying to grow seeds and then blogging about it.  What if I couldn’t get them to grow?  But I really wanted to try growing the varieties I learned about from our Home Garden Sales Lead, John Marchese –   Debut for the fantastic flavor and  Yaqui for  home canning and sauce –  both perfectly suited to the pots on my deck.  John had offered to try to get me some transplants from our greenhouse, but I declined.  That seemed like it would be cheating, and I really wanted to learn to grow from seed.

Lesson No. 1?  You won’t find the best seed germinating advice on Pinterest. The first round of tomato growing wasn’t very successful.

Like a good little Pinterest pinner, upon my arrival home with my seed envelopes, I immediately placed them in my freezer.  I wouldn’t be able to plant them right away, and I sure didn’t want them to go bad, so into the freezer they went.

The next weekend, I planted six seeds each of Debut and Yaqui, three each into an egg carton, and three each in eggshells I had saved.  Then I watered them (okay, my husband was doing the dishes, so the water may have been a little hot), wrapped them in plastic cling wrap to create a mini green house, and put them in the sun on the window sill.

Then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

I am not a very patient person.

After a week passed and still no green sprouts, I opened the cling wrap and found that the egg carton had wicked all of the water out of my soil which was now bone dry.  The carton itself was saturated, and true to the Pinterest promise, had begun to biodegrade.  The soil in the eggshells fared a little better, but I still only had one tiny Debut plant peeping sadly out of the soil.  This wasn’t working out.

So back I went to John.  He cringed when I told him my story.  “You froze them?”  Okay, so maybe Pinterest wasn’t the best place to go for advice.  John, ever patient, gave me some new tips on getting the seed started and some new, unfrozen envelopes of seed.  He also gave me an empty starter pot just like the little pots that hold the six-packs of plants at the home improvement stores.

Here are the tips he gave me:

  • Plant the seeds no more than ½ inch deep. The shallower the better.
  • Wrap with plastic cling wrap for a few days but take it off immediately after emergence.
  • Water them (how often?) and keep them in the sun.
  • If they get a little “leggy”, they will be just fine to transplant. Plants get leggy when they don’t have enough light.  They reach for the light and their stems grow long and thin with too much space between the leaves.
  • Transplant when the root mass fills the cup.

Molly tomato plantsGuess what.  It worked!  Imagine that!

I planted three Yaqui and two Debut seeds (remember, I already had a Debut growing in my egg shell), and within a few days, they were all up and the saran wrap was off!  By the next week, the six-pack plants had outstripped their eggshell brother in growth, so I crunched the eggshell, and planted the whole thing into the last, remaining spot in the six-pack.  By the next day, the former eggshell plant had greened up again and was catching back up to its younger siblings.

They are continuing to grow and flourish and I am certain that in a few weeks I will have a wonderful set of tomatoes to transplant into my big pots outdoors.

There is a lot of mystique around growing from seed.  I always imagined it was something only master gardeners do.  I am so glad to learn that growing from seed doesn’t have to be complicated.  As John told me, “Just plant it.  It will grow.”

Related:

Tomatoes in Tight Spaces: Choosing Seeds for Success

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