Larry Hodgson: Grow Your Own Tomatoes from Seed

Larry Hodgson: Grow Your Own Tomatoes from Seed

LiQM_Mar2017_CoverThis column first appeared in the March 2017 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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Grow Your Own Tomatoes from Seed

By Larry Hodgson

Gardeners get antsy as March rolls in. The days are getting longer, buds are starting to swell on the trees and houseplants are starting to perk up. Yet outside, the snow is still everywhere. Isn’t there something they could be doing?

Yes, there is: they can start sowing the seeds for their summer gardens indoors. This is a great strategy for fast-growing plants like annuals and vegetables; tomatoes are particularly easy to start this way.

Experienced gardeners already know how to do this and have pretty much everything they need on hand. If you’re just getting started, though, it’s probably easiest to buy new materials: a plastic tray, a clear plastic dome and enough 3-inch pots to fill the tray, plus seed starting mix.

You’ll also need a pack of tomato seeds. Do you like cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes or paste tomatoes? Red, pink, yellow, orange or black? Early, so you can beat your neighbours, or mid-season, so you can get more fruit? Small plants for a patio container (determinate tomatoes) or huge clamberers that will bear fruit all summer (indeterminate tomatoes)?

Assemble and Wait

Gather your materials and wait for the right moment. Tomatoes should be sown indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. In Québec City, where the last frost date is around June 1, or even June 7 in the mountains, that means early to mid-April.

Step by Step

  1. Pour soil into a large bowl or pail and add tepid water, mixing the water in with a large spoon. You want the mix to be just moist, not soaking wet.
  2. Spoon the moist soil into your pots and even out with a spoon.
  3. With a pencil or pen, pierce a hole in the soil in the middle of the pot to a depth of 5 mm.
  4. Drop 3 seeds into the hole. Always sow more seeds than you’ll need, in case germination is poor.
  5. Cover the hole with soil and mist with water to settle it.
  6. Place the pots on the tray and cover with the dome.
  7. Place the tray in a warm spot (21 to 32˚C) with good light, but not full sun (not yet!).
  8. When the seeds germinate, in about 6 to 8 days, remove the dome and move the tray to the sunniest spot you have. A south-facing window would be perfect.
  9. Cut off any extra seedlings with scissors. You want only one plant per pot.
  10. When the soil turns pale, that means it’s drying out. Pour tepid water into the tray and let the plants soak up the moisture. Pour out any excess water 15 minutes later.
  11. Give the tray a quarter turn once or twice a week to keep the plants from leaning toward the light.
  12. Once nights warm up, remaining above 10˚C at night, start acclimating the plants to outdoor conditions: 3 days in the shade, 3 days in partial shade, 3 days in full sun.
  13. Now plant your tomatoes, in a sunny spot with rich, moist, well-drained soil, either in the garden or in a large container.
  14. Throughout the summer, water as needed. Fertilize every 2 weeks with an all-purpose soluble fertilizer, and stake if necessary.
    Don’t forget to harvest the fruits of your labour!

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About Author

Larry Hodgson

Larry Hodgson is a free-lancer garden writer living in Quebec City. He is a regular contributor to garden magazines, speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout North America and is a regular garden commentator on television and radio. His book credits include Making the Most of Shade, The Garden Lovers Guide to Canada, Perennials for Every Purpose and Ortho’s Complete Guide to Houseplants, as well as over 45 other titles in English and French. He regularly leads garden tours to various countries around the world.

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