Starting Tomatoes Part I

Tomato Seedlings

The tomato is one of the most popular vegetables among homeowners. Many people choose to grow tomatoes in their garden or even in containers on their balcony or patio. Whatever your choice might be, some good tomato growing tips are always helpful.

Growing tomatoes is not complicated, but you need to follow some set steps. They will ensure that your tomatoes grow healthy and strong, with rich, tasty fruits. You also need to know how to choose the best tomato variety to grow in your garden and some other tips for growing healthy tomatoes.

Before Planting

First things first. As you probably know, in gardening a lot depends on chosen potting mix. Tomatoes like commercial potting soil mixed with some worm castings. It’s best to use potting mix and worm castings in 3:1 ratio.

When it comes to planting, you will want to plant seeds about three times as deep as the seed is wide. Small seeds stay near the surface while larger seeds need to be planted deeper. To test seeds, you can perform a germination test to make sure they are fine. Another way to go is to use pre-sprout tomato seeds to maximize your success.

You may also want to perform a quick soil test on the potting mix before you plant. You need to know that many of the commercial potting mixes lack some key nutrients or are overloaded with other nutrients.

Before planting, you should also prepare clear markers. Popsicle sticks broken in half can serve as good markers but you may use another type of a marker, too. Make sure to write the name of the variety on both sides of the stick using a ball point pen. In case it gets wet at least one side will remain visible.

Starting Seeds

It’s always best to cover the seeds with a clear plastic cover and put them in a well-lit location. You may also give them a bit of a jump start with a heating pad underneath. Put the pad and the lights on a timer for about 16 hours a day.


When you see seedlings popping up, uncover them. Make sure to do it within 24 hours of their appearance. If you keep them covered it can lead to damping off, which can be caused by fungal infections. This is usually a consequence of keeping seedlings too wet.

If you notice your seedlings damping off you may try to revive them with a sprinkle of cinnamon or a bit of chamomile tea. However, it can’t do much if a seedling is seriously affected. This is why it’s important to uncover your seedlings and monitor their progress.

Tomato Seedlings

The soil need to be damp but not wet and not too dry. Some soil mixes are just not right for tomatoes so this is why it’s important to have a quality soil mix.

Another thing to watch for is light levels. If your seedlings become leggy it’s a sign that you are not giving them enough light. It’s vest to move them to a different location or add more artificial lighting.

To make your seedlings stronger you can expose them to a fan on a timer. Make it blow on the seedlings through the day. This will help toughen up their stems. If you don’t want to use a fan you can run your hands lightly across the tops of the seedlings from time to time. This will make them stronger.

Once your tomatoes get larger you can move them to a greenhouse or cold frame. You should make sure that they are not freezing so desired temperature should be between 50 and 80 degrees F.

Tips for growing tomatoes

If you choose to grow many varieties, chances are that you will end up with leftover seeds from previous years. Tomato seeds tend to store quite well for years. However, you need to keep in mind that the germination rates decrease over time.

It’s best to keep everything organized in a notebook or an Excel sheet. Make sure to track date when you planted seeds, tomato variety, seed source, number of seeds planted, date of first seedling appearance and final number of seedlings. This will not only keep everything organized but it will also allow you to track the drop in germination rates over time.

Photo credit: jazzijava via photopin cc