Starting Tomatoes Part II
In this part, we explain how to grow tomatoes after transplanting and how to give them the best possible care. Part I discussed the way to start tomatoes from seeds. Usually, cell packs are used for this purpose. As tomatoes grow, they have to be transplanted into larger containers. This is what this article focuses on.
Observe your tomatoes carefully so you can transplant them into larger containers as they grow. Move them to 2 inch containers first, then 3-4 inch containers. It will all depend on how fast they grow and how long does it take to move them to the garden.
You will know that your tomatoes are ready to be transplanted when they become a bit overcrowded and leggy. It’s generally safe to transplant them after they develop their first true leaves. Those are the leaves that look like real tomato leaves.
Some gardeners recommend to prevent overcrowding by cutting the excess seedlings but that’s just cruel: those are healthy little plants and as long as you react as soon as you notice overcrowding, it won’t do much damage.
To transplant, gently remove a group of seedlings out of their cell. You can do that by pushing up from below, as you pull from the base of the plant above. Once they are out, try to ease the roots apart and try to keep as much soil as possible on the roots.
It’s important to transplant a seedling as deep as possible in their new container. This is done to ensure support of the stems. If bottom leaves are covered, don’t worry: it won’t do any harm.
Leave them be for a few weeks and then transplant them to the larger container. At this point, you are getting close to the time when you have to plant them outside.
This is a good time to start hardening your seedlings. This is a process in which you gently introduce them to the outside elements in order to toughen them up so they can easily survive in the garden.
It’s important to do hardening carefully and gradually or else you may end up killing the seedlings. It’s best to harden them off over 3 to 4 days. First, expose them to an hour of direct sun. Increase the exposure each day. When you set them out, make sure to fully protect them from the wind and to give them water.
Planting in the Garden
Finally, it’s time to plant your seedlings in the garden! When planting, dig deeper holes over shallow trenches. If you plant them deep enough (by just leaving a few inches of leaves exposed above the ground) it will produce more robust plants that are also more tolerant to drought. When planted, your tomatoes will send out new roots from the buried stem.
It’s probably useful to add a small handful of crushed eggshells to the planting hole so you an prevent blossom end rot, which is often caused by inadequate calcium levels. It’s usually made worse by fluctuating moisture levels in the soil. Remember, tomatoes like rich soil, so it’s good to add some manure or worm castings to the hole. Don’t overdo it, though. About a full shovel per planting hole is enough. If you add too much, it will only raise nitrogen levels, which will produce many leaves but not enough tomatoes.
Some other things you may try to help your tomatoes thrive in your garden: mulching, adding a soaker hose under the mulch for watering and using a trellis.
Addition: Common Tomato Varieties
Here are some common tomato varieties you may wish to grow in your garden. Generally speaking, tomato varieties are classified as slicing, cherry and paste. Great varieties include:
- Slicing Tomatoes: Cour di Bue, Green Zebra, Tigerella, Better Boy, Glacier, Garden Peach, Pruden’s Purple, Early Girl, Totem, Defiant, Arkansas Traveler.
- Cherry Tomatoes: Pearly Pink, Black Cherry, Sun Gold, Peacevine, Yellow Pear, Red Pear, Micro Tom.
- Paste tomatoes: San Marzano Paste, Purple Russian Paste, Polish Linguisa, Opalka Paste.