Growing Tomatoes from seed – starting in March
First I checked what seeds were in the box of seed packets. This year (2020) there was an old packet of Money Maker (medium sized red tomatoes) and two new packets of Gardener’s Delight and Ildi (both small tomatoes, red and yellow respectively).
To reduce the risks of pests and diseases I always sow seeds in a sterile medium. In theory we could use our own home-made compost but to treat it so it is clear of weed seeds, pests and diseases would be a major exercise. However it comes in very useful at a later stage when plants are well established and ready to go into bigger pots.
Although it is something that every gardener should do, I have never been enthusiastic about washing pots, seed trays etc. However this year I had time to do that so I gave everything a good slosh with cold water and a chance to dry. When it’s not raining drying is best done by scattering the containers across the lawn. It’s always interesting to see how they have moved overnight – there’s clearly lots going on in our garden in the dark that we don’t know about.
Our allotment society sells sacks of multipurpose compost that does the job very well as a sowing medium and also for all stages of potting on.
I selected the ‘now clean’ containers for sowing.
Before I even opened the seed packets I wrote labels for each of the three types of tomato.
I filled three clean containers with compost. They were a seed tray and two containers with modules that fit into an unheated germinating trough that has a cover.
I sowed the seeds thinly in rows in the tray and two seeds to a module for the other two.
Then I watered them using a rose on the watering can.
The modules were covered with their plastic cover and the seed tray with cling film. I keep a separate roll of cling film for gardening. In the early years I was tempted to nip to the kitchen drawer for cling film but best not to mix cooking and gardening equipment.
One of our bedrooms is north facing with a radiator under the window, a perfect place for starting seeds off. This year I have put two garden tables under the window (a wallpapering table would have been just as good) and covered them with newspaper. The seeds in their containers sat there for about a week before there were signs of seedlings coming through the soil. I kept an eye on them, watering as necessary. After another week they had grown big enough (first set of leaves and early signs of the second set of leaves) to take off the covers and to move them to the conservatory.
Another few days passed then I decided to prick out the seedlings into 3 inch pots, two to a pot. All tomato seedling look the same to me so labelling the pots carefully is important if you want to know what type of tomato is in each pot.
I realised that I had far too many for us to use so asked a few friends and neighbours if they would like plants. Four people responded that they would. At this stage the seedlings are quite delicate – I hope they have survived with their new owners.
The picture below is of four pots packed and ready to be taken home to their new home in a bike pannier.
The seedlings need to get used to outdoors so I put them outside every day to harden off and bring them back in overnight. It is far too cold at night for tomatoes to survive outside unprotected. We have a cold frame but it is in shade so a bit too cool at the moment for tomato seedlings.
The pots are easy to carry in and out, evening and morning if they are in larger containers. Normally I use seed trays but this year I found these redundant old bowls under our potting table. They are nice and solid so I’ve found them easy to handle.
It’s early days yet and the plants are slowly putting on growth. Once they are about 6 inches tall and the weather is warmer I’ll decide what to do next. This means deciding how many go to the allotment (and a higher risk of blight) and how many stay here in the garden in large pots. It’s lovely to nip into the garden to pick tomatoes to eat immediately. It’s also good to have a decent amount of space to grow them, ie on the allotment.
The potting on and planting out stages will be followed by staking, watering, pinching out if necessary, and eventually harvesting in late July and August.