Tomato Series: Planting Seeds & Care
As we prepare for the fall garden here at Circle S Farm we are busy cleaning up the remnants of the crops that have ended and are planting seeds so that they can germinate in time. We get a lot of questions about gardening and how to get started. While running a farm, even one the relatively small size of ours, it can be an overwhelming task growing your own vegetables. However, If you are diligent with planning, planting, and caring for the plants you too can have heirloom vegetables straight from your back yard.
For fall tomato gardening you can plant from direct seeding or a transplant. A transplant is a seedling that is planted in a container or tray with the intention of replanting it once it gets bigger, usually about 4 inches for tomatoes. Although it is possible to grow tomatoes direct from seed without replanting them, most people go with the transplanting method since it allows the plants to grow fast and effectively while they are still tender seedlings. Here at Circle S Farm we save our own seeds, grow our own seedlings and plant the transplants. You can follow along through out Tomato Series to learn how to grow your own tomatoes.
Planting From Seeds
For the most part, we grow heirloom fruits and vegetables, therefore we can save our own seeds. As we have mentioned before the seeds of hybrid vegetables are not necessarily genetically stable meaning that if you plant a seed from a grocery store tomato it may not produce fruit. GMO or hybrid tomatoes are sometimes backed with a patent, which comes with a hefty price tag for farmers who have to buy the seeds each and every year. If you don’t save your own seeds you can purchase heirloom seeds from a variety of farms that do the messy work for you. We have personally used Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. which has an amazing variety of unique fruits and vegetables. Here at Circle S Farm we plants hundreds of plants each season so that we will have enough vegetable yield. For your own home garden a few tomato plants will provide plenty of output for your family so select only a few varieties to try and only plant a few seeds of each. If you end up with extra transplants, they are great gifts!
Planters & Soil
Select a planter that has drainage holes to ensure that excess water is able to escape. We personally use rectangular plastic planters with an attached saucer, but the divided plastic flats work as well. The transplants that will sprout from the seeds will be removed from the containers so don’t worry about them being aesthetically pleasing.
Fill the planters with a high quality potting soil. We personally use an organic potting soil that you can find at most gardening stores. Your potting soil needs to be loose enough that the seedling is able to grow and push it’s roots through the medium, but also compact enough that it has a good amount of water retention capacity, meaning that when watering, it doesn’t all drain to the bottom immediately . Most standard potting soil is already in this “goldilocks” range, so you don’t have to worry about it that much.
Spreading Out Seeds
Once the potting soil is in your container, spread or sprinkle the seeds onto the surface of the soil. Don’t press them into the dirt. The seeds should be lying on top of the surface in one even layer. How far apart the seeds need to be depends on how many seeds you are planting. We personally plant more seeds than we could possibly need and “pinch off” the excess seedlings that are weaker as they grow. If you choose not to go that route, make sure your seeds are a few inches apart.
Covering Seeds with Soil
Now that the seeds are on the soil, lightly cover them with more potting soil. There should be about a 1/4 inch of dirt covering the seeds. You don’t have to take out a ruler, a little more or less is fine, as long as the seeds don’t dry out once you water them. The seeds need enough dirt covering them to be protected but not too much that sunlight won’t reach them and then they won’t germinate.
Press Down the Soil
Once the seeds are covered in a light layer of soil gently press down on the soil so that there is a nice and even surface. Don’t apply too much pressure, just enough so that the top of the soil is even. At this point, make sure that no seeds are sticking out of the soil and that they are all covered. If a seed isn’t underneath the soil it won’t germinate.
Water the Seeds In
Water in the seeds enough so that the soil is moist. If you live in a residential area, chlorinated city water isn’t the best choice for watering plants, especially when you are germinating seeds. Chlorine is in city water is meant to kill anything that can get us sick but it can kill the good stuff in soil. Chlorinated water kills vital microorganisms in the soil that are essential to plant health and growth. If you are stuck with city water, we recommend filling a bucket with the water and on the next day most of the chlorine will have settled to the bottom. When watering just scoop out the water from the top which will ensure you get close to pure water. If you save rain water or get water from a well you don’t need to do this.
Add More Soil if Necessary
When watering at the beginning stages seeds can sometimes float to the surface. Simply add a light layer of soil to cover the seeds.
Always remember to label the variety of tomato that you just planted! A popsicle stick and a sharpie is all you need. Trust us, you don’t want to loose those sticks and have a mystery veggie.
Once you have finished planting the tomato seeds the planters need to be placed in a greenhouse or in direct sunlight indoors or in an area in which they are protected. If the planers are outside or in a greenhouse they will require more watering due to the increased temperatures. If you leave the planters by a window indoors, try to take them outside at least once a day for a while (when there is no wind) so that they can get direct sunlight.
If you don’t have a greenhouse or a space for them to germinate outside, don’t worry! We have used our kitchen table in place of a greenhouse for years.
The amount of watering needed will vary. Keep the soil uniformly moist until the seeds germinate and sprout, which can take up to week for some tomato varieties. Once they sprout, we usually water once a day. You can tell if the seedlings aren’t getting enough water if they start to wilt, which isn’t too much a problem. If you see any wilt water immediately and the plants should perk back up within 15 minutes. It should be noted that over-watering can be just as harmful as not watering enough. Consistently too much water in the soil can cause stress to the plants and is a perfect environment for harmful fungus and molds to spore in.
Transplanting & More…
Eventually your seedlings will be big enough that they are ready to be transplanted. In the coming weeks we will be expanding this blog series to include the transplanting process and numerous other topics on the farm.
Have any questions about the process? Please do not hesitate to ask! You can comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org