We pointed out in previous articles that there are various choices you need to make before you attempt to grow tomatoes for the first time. One of the most important of the questions you need to ask yourself is: do you want to buy seedlings from your local nursery – very young tomato plants – and transplant them into your own garden, or do you want to start the growth process from scratch .so to speak?
The latter course would involve buying seeds in packets and planting them. In other words, you would in the most literal sense be starting from the ground up – or more accurately, even from below the ground!
What can be more fulfilling than partnering with nature in the entire growth cycle – from the tiniest seed to a sturdy plant, from which there ultimately develops a number of plump, delicious tomato fruits
Many nurseries, organic food stores and similar outlets will stock a decent selection of seed packets from different tomato varieties. You can seek the advice of your local nurseryman or an experienced gardener in your neighborhood regarding the best varieties for your local conditions and personal needs, or alternatively, you can experiment with a few of them.
This growth cycle can usually be divided into several distinct stages:
Stage One: Planting seeds in trays
A common way to begin is to plant your newly-acquired seeds thinly in long, narrow trays. Cover the soil in the trays with a layer of potting compost, and then scatter your seeds thinly over this.
A good idea is to add cling film over the tray to keep the soil from drying out. Once the seedlings begin to appear, remove the cling film. Water the seeds in moderation. Although tomato seeds flourish in moist soil, excess water can cause damage to the roots
If your aim is to replant the emerging seedlings in your outside garden as soon as they are mature enough, the best time to start out with the trays would be early spring, so that climatic conditions would be optimum when the time comes for planting in the ground outside about six weeks later.
You can then place your trays on your windowsill, balcony or patio until they are ready for the garden. What you have to ensure, though, is that the location you choose gets plenty of sunlight, for this is what tomato plants love at any time of the year.
A good plan is to change the direction of your trays every couple of days. . This will ensure that all of the plants gain access to the light and grow evenly. When tomato plants do not receive enough light naturally, they may attempt to turn towars what ever light there is on their own, which means they may grow bent. Tomato plants can also grow thin and leggy if they do not receive enough light while indoors.
Stage Two: Transplanting to individual pots
Once the seedlings reach an inch or two in height, they will be too big to remain all together in one tray, and each seedling needs to be transplanted to an individual pot.
Carefully separate each seedling being careful not to damage the roots. You should lift the seedlings by the leaves and not the stem because they can easily get damaged at this young stage. Place the seedlings in a hole in the soil which is big enough for its roots.
Back fill the hole with compost and water the seedling immediately. Lightly press the compost around the roots to ensure that the roots have good contact with the soil. The seedlings should continue to be kept within the sunlight and turned if the sunlight is uneven.
Stage Three: “Hardening off” your plants in preparation for the outdoor life
. When the seedlings have grown to be about six to eight inched tall, you should transplant them again into larger pots. During these last stages, you can “harden off” the seedlings before placing them into an outdoor garden. Hardening them off simply means to gradually accustom them to fluctuating outdoor temperatures over which, unlike the situation up to this point, you will have little control. Place the seedlings out in the sun for gradually increasing periods of time to harden them off.
Stage Four: In your garden at last!
When seedlings finally grow at least six leaves and the weather is warm enough for them to be transplanted to an outdoor garden, bury the seedlings within the soil that that only the top four leaves are showing. Since tomato plants can develop roots all along the stem, burying the stems deep into the ground will ensure that your tomato plants grow strong root systems. A stronger plant will be your guarantee of a more abundant, healthier harvest.