Starting Tomato Seedlings
or
"Cherokee Tomato Will Survive"

Dateline: 10 May 2013

Homegrown tomato seedlings (click to see an enlarged view)

Starting plants, like tomatoes, from seed is something that we have done for years. I say "we," but in the division of labor in our family economy, my wife, Marlene, has been the primary plant starter. This year, however, Marlene went to Oklahoma for our grandbaby's first birthday, and I decided to get the tomato seeds started myself. I planted the seeds on April 7th.

The picture above, taken on May 9th, shows one of two flats of home-grown tomato transplants. Twelve days earlier I took a picture of the seedlings in a Whizbang solar pyramid and posted it to my April 2013 monthly blogazine. Here's those same tomato plants 12 days ago...



As you can see, the plants have really grown, and they're not tall and spindly. The stems are thickening up nicely. We have a cold front with rain coming over the next few days and I'll get the tomatoes planted in my garden shortly thereafter. I will plant them in solar pyramids or some other kind of cloche so they will get off to a great start once in the soil.

I started numerous kinds of tomatoes. They are all indeterminate varieties and will all be planted along Whizbang tomato trellis spans. The trellis will allow them to grow to 5'6" high. The smaller tomato varieties (Tommy Toe and Juliet) tend to be much more vigorous and will be planted on 7'6" high Whizbang trellis spans. I'll chronicle the progress of these plants through the gardening season.

By the way, solar pyramids and Whizbang trellis spans are discussed in The Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners.

I decided to plant a trellis span of Cherokee Purple tomatoes this year. I've never grown that variety before. Unfortunately, I didn't get the Cherokee Purple seeds started when I started all the other tomatoes. But with the solar pyramids, they will grow quickly and not be much behind. 

I'll explain how we start tomatoes from seed with the following pictures. Our objective is to get the plants started without grid-dependent electric grow-lights, or an expensive greenhouse structure.

We begin by planting some seeds in a shallow container. We typically do this in cardboard milk or juice containers cut in half (the long way). For the Cherokee Purple seeds, I used a shallow yogurt container (as you can see below). Marlene said that she saw on the internet where people were using those small Keurig coffee cups to start seeds. Our kids bought us a Keurig coffee maker a couple years ago and I think those cups would be perfect for getting seeds started.



The picture above shows the Cherokee Purple seedlings. We have grown them on a windowsill. The first true leaves have begun to form. I will use the knife to slice out  a seedling, with some soil, and transplant it into the much larger plastic cups with moistened potting soil in them. 

The little jug to the left in the picture is an organic liquid seaweed concentrate (0-4-4). I put a very small amount of the concentrate in the water that I used to moisten the potting soil in the big cups. No fertilizer was used prior to this.

The plastic Snapple jug in the background is a significant part of the tomato seedling operation. I don't buy Snapple, or other factory-prepared drinks (except an occasional six-pack of Woodchuck hard cider) but my kids do, and I end up with the empty containers. Marlene took it upon herself to drill a bunch of holes in the screw-on Snapple container lid and made a watering jug out of it. I wasn't overly impressed at first, but it turns out to be a very handy tool for keeping the seedlings watered.



In the picture above you can see a Cherokee Purple seedling, sliced out of the shallow yogurt container, about to go into the more roomy plastic cup (and there's that handy Snapple watering jug in the background).

As I was transplanting these Cherokee Purple seedlings, Cherokee Nation, that old Paul Revere and The Raiders song, came into my head. I couldn't help but start singing it to myself. And before long I was changing the words...

"Cherokee tomato will survive, will survive, will survive....."



A Whizbang T-Post tomato trellis span accommodates four tomato plants, so I grow five transplants. I'll plant the four healthiest ones and give the extra to a gardening friend.

Once the seedlings are transplanted into the bigger cups, they will stay on the windowsill for a day or two before going outside, in the solar pyramids (weather permitting) for the daytime hours. We bring the plants indoors at night, especially in the early spring when the nights get cold.



In the above picture, you can see the Cherokee Purple cups on the windowsill. The tomatoes in the foreground are the ones I started earlier. The picture was taken in the morning. The flats of tomatoes were on our kitchen table for the overnight hours. When the weather warmed, they were put outside for the day.

You can start your own tomatoes without grow-lights or a greenhouse, or big south-facing windows. We've done it for years. Some sort of "solar appliance" is, however, a necessity. We used to use clear plastic draped over a garden cart, but the solar pyramids are easier and better. 

Another thing that's needed to get your seedlings off to a good start is some careful attention. They really need to be nurtured, getting them outdoors and taking them indoors, and making sure they are watered and so on. That sort of thing takes time. I don't think I could start seedlings as well if I was still working my factory job. That's why Marlene has done the seed-starting in previous years—she was at home. But seeing as I'm now a full-time, home-based worker, I have the time to properly nurture these seedlings.

Raising a few transplants for your garden from seed is a soul-satisfying pursuit. You can get very attached to your plant "babies." They're special to you. They're a delight.

As for Marlene, she can now focus on nurturing her beloved little pepper-plant seedlings.





1 comment:

Mrs. T said...

I am looking forward to trying your solar pyramids! Maybe next year we'll try to grow some Cherokee Purple tomatoes. I love the old heirloom varieties.