Planting Tomato Seeds
What homegrown tomatoes are in store for me in 2020? As I mentioned in my previous post of my new location, I’ve got a whole different growing style to get used to.
Instead of two short growing seasons, I have one longer one. If I am lucky, I’ll be able to do a little succession planting. The humidity up here isn’t nearly as bad as S Florida, even though I still will get days in the 90s come August. My season starts in early April, so I’m lining up all my supplies now.
All that being said, what tomato varieties do I have planned for the 2020 gardening season? Here’s what I want to grow.
Tomato Varieties Planned for 2020
I’m going with all new (to me) varieties, with one exception. All are either heirloom or open-pollinated, so I can save seeds if I like. And for a change, I am planting some dwarf tomatoes! Here is the lineup:
- Dwarf Arctic Rose: Determinate, pink, early-season. Regular rugose leaves. Fruits average 2 to 5 ounces.
- BrandyFred: Indeterminate (dwarf), purple, mid-season. Potato rugose leaves. Fruits average around 10 ounces.
- Dwarf Pink Passion: Indeterminate, pink, mid-season. Regular rugose leaves. Fruits average 8 ounces.
- Dwarf Bendigo Blush: Indeterminate, pink, mid-season. Potato rugose leaves. Fruits average 1 to 2 ounces.
- Red Robin: Determinate, red, early-season. Regular rugose leaves. Fruits average 1 ounce. Not a dwarf so much as a tiny micro-determinate — tiny as in maybe 10 inches tall. This is the one variety I have grown in the past, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it grows up here.
- Tennessee Yellow Cherry: Indeterminate, yellow, early-season. Regular leaves. Fruits average 1 ounce per tomato – supposed to be very prolific. And since I now live in Tennessee, it seemed appropriate. 😉
- Vorlon: Indeterminate, purple, mid-season. Potato leaves. Fruits average 6 to 8 ounces. I get a kick out of the show “Babylon 5”, and this was supposedly named after a character on the show. I just couldn’t resist, and purple tomatoes are generally pretty flavorful.
Three unusual varieties I’ll be growing are:
- Blue Beauty: Indeterminate, blue, early- to mid-season. Regular leaves. Unknown average size. I’ve not grown a blue tomato as yet, so this will be my first. The “blue” is due to anthocyanin, which is more of an indigo-purple color.
- Alice’s Dream: Indeterminate, blue/striped, mid-season. Regular leaves. Unknown average size. I have to admit, this one intrigues me. More anthocyanin, so it’s a “blue” tomato, but ripens to what looks like a striped tomato. It’s supposed to be beautiful and tasty!
- Girl Girl’s Weird Thing: Indeterminate, striped red/green, mid- to late-season. Regular leaves. Unknown average size, but appear to be medium. The name drew me in, and the striped red and green was fascinating. Supposed to be very tasty.
Although Blue Beauty, Alice’s Dream and Girl Girl’s Weird Thing have unknown average sizes, from the photos I’ve seen I guess that between 6 and 10 ounces seems reasonable. I know that “tasty” can vary from person to person, so when I eventually review these varieties, I’ll have to compare them against some well-known varieties for comparison.
I’m really excited to be growing in this new location, and with these new-to-me tomato seeds. I look forward to sharing my progress and photos of the garden and tomatoes.
Have you ever found a pack of tomato seeds from a year or two ago and wondered if you could germinate those seeds and get them to grow? If you’ve ever had this happen, the answer is definitely try it!
Yesterday, I uncovered some seeds that I thought were lost to time. One was a tomato I had been breeding myself; another was a commercial packet that contained seeds that did not match the variety. It was from a highly respected seed firm, so the tomatoes were either 1) a mis-labeled pack or 2) crossed seeds. I’ve had crossed seeds before from a commercial pack, and it’s always exciting to see what might grow out.
How old are these seeds? They’ve been patiently waiting for 5 years!
How Long Do Tomato Seeds Last?
I’ve had this happen in the past, and I’ve successfully germinated seeds that I had for 10 years (see a previous post on seed germination) . So, I’m thinking that because the seeds were in a cool, low-humidity location, my 5-year-old seeds should germinate OK.
I don’t expect a 90% rate — probably more like 70 to 75%. But hey, I planted 8 seeds of each of the two packets, so even if I get just one or two good, sturdy plants from each, I will be thrilled. 🙂 (More is better, though, so I can select the healthiest plants to work with.)
Germinating Old Tomato Seeds
Because I want the seeds to have the best possible chance, I got together the following:
- 3-ounce paper cups
- Seed-starting soil
- Liquid kelp, diluted to 1/3 strength
- Windowsill greenhouse
- Seed germination heat pad
- Pair of scissors
- Plant labels
With the scissors, I cut slits in the bottom of the paper cups (for water drainage). I filled them to the top with the seed-starting soil and placed each cup in the windowsill greenhouse. When all the cups were filled, I took my liquid kelp mixture and soaked the soil, letting the water run out the bottom.
I let the cups stand for a few minutes, then lightly pushed the soil down. When I was satisfied that the top of the soil was moist, I put on the soil surface 4 seeds per cup. (Normally I’d only plant 2 per cup.)
I put a layer (maybe 3/8 inch thick) of the seed starting soil on top of the seeds and once again, lightly pressed down.
I added labels to the cups with the name of the tomato, and filled the windowsill greenhouse with enough water to come up 1/8 inch up the sides of the cups. That would provide enough water to make the seed-starting soil moist all the way through the cup, to the top.
Put the top on the greenhouse (to keep the humidity up) and set the whole kit and caboodle on the seed germination heating pad, which would gently warm the bottom of the greenhouse, and by extension, the soil and seeds.
How Long Will it Take?
Good question! Normally it takes anywhere from 3 to 10 days to germinate tomato seeds, with about 5 days being average. Given that these are older seeds, I don’t expect to see signs of germination for 5 days at the earliest, 7 days on average. Therefore, I wait impatiently. 😉
Should you buy tomato plants or grow from seeds? There are some good arguments both ways, and I sometimes do both. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Buying Tomato Plants
There are two main things you need to be concerned with, when buying tomato plants for your garden.
- First, how do the plants look? Are they rangy and tall, shorter and bushier or somewhere in between? The taller rangy plants are not as desirable as the stockier plants. The taller plants may have been fed a bunch of fertilizer, or haven’t been given enough sunlight, producing the rangy growth.
- Can you see any roots showing at the bottom or sides of the pot? If so, the plant is very likely root-bound and will have trouble getting started in your garden.
Also be careful of the following when buying tomato plants:
- Do not, no matter how tempting, buy plants that already have open blossoms or tomatoes. These plants will be shocked moving into your garden and very likely will have setbacks (take it from someone who knows).
- If the plants come with little removable plant labels, you may (or may not) get the variety that you’re expecting. Charles Wilber tells a story about thinking he was buying Better Boy plants (beefsteak tomatoes) and ended up with cherry tomatoes — someone had either mislabeled or switched labels. (However, with those cherry tomatoes, he captured a Guinness world record for the largest tomato plant, so all ended well.)
The main advantage to buying tomato plants is that the early work is already done. If you decide late in the season that you want to grow tomatoes, there may not be time to start from seeds — and the plants fill in nicely. Also, some people don’t want to be bothered with starting seeds. These are cases where buying tomato plants works well.
Planting Tomato Seeds
Planting tomato seeds gives you the most variety and control over your tomatoes. In general, tomato plants are available in maybe a dozen varieties. Tomato seeds, on the other hand, have thousands of varieties from which to choose!
If you want a wide range from which to choose, you can try Amazon (of all places) . Yes, I do buy some of mine there, thus far with great success.
The biggest disadvantage of planting your own tomato seeds is that you have to do it well before the time you need to put them out in the garden — in general, 4 to 6 weeks ahead. Also, you need to have a warm dark place to germinate the seeds, then some place to put them where they will get adequate light after they’ve germinated.
I tend to germinate far more seeds than I do buy tomato plants, partly because there isn’t enough of a variety available locally for the plants. I also like to grow organically as possible, and it’s highly likely that store-bought tomato plants will have been fertilized chemically. On the other hand…sometimes a plant just calls out to me and begs to be taken home!
Here are some tomato plant updates for the week (as well as tomato seed updates). Sorry I haven’t been around much this week — I’ve been busy with my tomatoes (not to mention with my other veggies).
I mentioned in my first tomato update post that I had three SuperSweet 100 plants, and I was going to run an experiment with them. One I kept inside in a south-facing window. Another I took outside to a protected area with strong indirect sunlight (as well as a couple hours of direct sun). The third I went and planted in its final container outside. Three weeks later, how did they fare?
It’s been rather cool here lately, so the plant I kept inside in a south-facing window is by far the tallest and has the most leaves. However, it’s verging on leggy. I’m keeping it inside for the time being, seeing as the forecast is for temps in the upper 30’s next week — if I sent it outside now, I’m afraid it would have a severe setback.
The one I planted in its final container in the garden is the next most developed; it has medium-sized new growth — not as much as the one I left inside, but it’s stockier — not leggy at all. It has a nice, dark green color.
The third that I left outside in a protected location is the smallest. I decided to go ahead and plant it in its final container out in the garden area, so it could get some more growth. Dark green leaves, though, so that’s good.
All my started to grow quite well by about the 10th, when I potted them up twice since then. I was thinking I had the red version of Brandywine, but they all ended up potato leaf style, so I either have red Brandywine with potato leaves or pink Brandywine. Hmmm. I’ll have to wait and see the color of the fruit.
These are for the Great Tomato Experiment, and they are doing very nicely. I transferred them to the next size container, and am keeping them inside for now, given that lower temperatures are forecast during the week. All my Pineapple seeds germinated nicely, so I have four plants to choose from — the three strongest will take part in the experiment.
I originally said that one of my White Bush seedlings had been going for the sky. Well, it had, then a short while later it looked like it was going to keel over. So I brought it inside and hoped for the best. It hasn’t been until the last few days that it’s started looking healthy — now it’s growing fine again.
The Rest of the Tomato Plants
I have Juliet, Tomatoberry, Big Rainbow, Kellogg’s Breakfastall repotted up. I brought one Kellogg’s Breakfast inside, and everything else I left outside. Yellow Cherry is also outside, but I’m not sure how it will fare. I probably should bring it inside.
New Tomato Seeds Germinated
I tried for some of my legacy seeds, and so far, Green Grape and Loxahatchee are the only two up. I had also planted newer seeds for Tumbling Tom, and they both came up. For the legacy seeds, still waiting on Black Krim.
Loxahatchee is a strain I am developing. I originally saved the seed from an unknown globe-shaped tomato that tasted wonderful, and hoped that the resulting plant would also have great-tasting tomatoes. I didn’t know if the tomato was hybrid or open pollinated, so I wasn’t sure what I’d get. At any rate, I’ve selected plants for three generations whose tomatoes tasted the best.
Whoops! For some reason I was down to just 6 seeds — not sure where the rest ran off to. So I carefully planted 3 of the seeds. Two have germinated so far, and hopefully the third as well.
For these, I want to do two things. First is still select the largest of the great-tasting red globes — that will be two of the plants. The third plant I want to use as the female cross with another tomato variety. Not sure which I want to use for the male parent of the cross. I’m debating using Pineapple, Kellogg’s Breakfast or maybe Druzba. I’ll have to see how this generation fares, first.
Finally, I planted two new varieties yesterday — the heirloom tomato and the hybrid Fabulous. (If you plan on planting seeds and need some guidance, check out the germinating tomato seeds post.)
With Tomatoes and Flowers
Almost forgot, I have tomatoes on Patio, Celebrity and Husky Red (a cherry-type). I have more blossoms on all these, plus also with Mr. Stripey (Tigerella) and Park’s Whopper. It’s been a cooler winter than normal, so everything is growing slower than usual; I should have already had at least some almost-ripe tomatoes by now. I’ve still got a ways to wait, though.
These tomato growing tips are for inexpensive ways to stretch your gardening budget. After all, part of the reason for gardening is so you pay less for vine-ripe tomatoes! Not to mention the deliciousness of homegrown tomatoes. 😀
There’s a book out on the $64 tomato, where a gardener says that after he tallied up all his costs associated with his tomato plants, and divided it among the tomatoes harvested, it came to something like $64 a tomato.
No, it doesn’t cost that much! I haven’t read the book, and I’m sure part is tongue-in-cheek. But it is true that if you don’t watch it, you, too can be spending a whole lot more than you intended.
Tip #1: Household Items
Some of the household items I like using include used (washed) pantyhose; cut them in wide strips and you can use them for tying up the tomatoes to their stakes.
Small 3-ounce Dixie cups are fantastic for germinating tomato seeds and really inexpensive (especially if you get the store brands).
Gallon containers like plastic milk jugs and tea jugs are great for mixing up fish and seaweed emulsion fertilizer drenches. Just remember to label the containers with their new ingredients! Two liter bottles are fine as well.
All kinds of household plastic and waxed paper containers can be used for temporary potting, before setting out in the garden. Just make sure to punch holes for drainage.
Tips For Fertilizers and Soil Amendments
Most fertilizers have a high nitrogen component, which is not what you want for tomato fruits! And most fertilizer instructions want you to apply them far too often. If you have enriched your garden soil with compost or composted manure, you will need far less fertilizer. I generally apply my fertilizer at half the strength suggested on the label instructions with good results.
If you have the room, set up a compost pile. depending on your climate it can take anywhere from a month to a year for finished compost, but your tomatoes will thank you. And since compost is made from food scraps you’d normally throw away, it’s a great way to recycle.
If you live in an area with cows or horses, see if you can arrange to cart away some of the manure; normally you can get your manure free this way — put it in your compost pile to make it even richer.
OK, what if you don’t have room for a compost pile (or you just don’t want one). Go to your local garden center and find a fertilizer which can be diluted before applying to the plants. One small box of Miracle Gro is pretty inexpensive (I like Miracle Gro for Roses) and lasts quite awhile.
Thoughts on Garden Equipment
If you have a small garden (100 square feet or less), try renting a tiller for a day or two instead of buying one. If, however, you have a larger garden, buying your own tiller may make sense for the long run.
A shovel, spade, hoe and pitchfork are really all the hand tools you need. The pitchfork is optional, and mainly used if you have a compost pile.
You can make your own tomato cages from concrete reinforcing wire; useful if you have a lot of tomatoes that need staking as they do seem to last forever. Rebar makes for good tomato stakes, if you have easy access to it. But if you have only a couple-three plants, you can use commercial tomato towers and cages and save yourself the trouble. I’ve found that most commercial cages/towers last quite a few years and tend to be easier to store.
Don’t have a lot of room for a garden? I’ve found the 5-gallon grow bags are great for medium-sized indeterminate tomato plants and are pretty inexpensive. You can go as small as 3-gallon for smaller and determinate tomatoes, and 10-gallon for the larger indeterminates.
Plants Versus Seeds
Hands down, it’s cheaper to plant seeds than buy tomato plants. Some of the best-producing tomato varieties may not be available as plants in your area. For $3, you can grow 20 to 40 plants from seeds…or you can buy one plant.
Keep in mind that if you store them in a cool, dry place, your tomato seeds will be good for several years. So if you don’t plant the whole pack this year, you automatically have seeds available for next (and the next…)!
Now it’s true that if you plant seeds you need to get some seed-starting soil; you don’t want to use anything from the garden, as it will have bacteria that may cause problems. But you’ll use very little per seed; a small 4-quart bag can be used for many, many dozens of seeds. Around here, the big-box garden centers (Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.) carries the small bag for between $4 and $5.
You will also need a germination tray or two, but they are also inexpensive and last year after year. I had one windowsill mini-greenhouse that finally bit the dust…after 10 years.
Final Tomato Growing Tips
You really don’t need to spend a fortune to grow your tomatoes; household items will suffice in many situations, and other more permanent items (shovels, cages, etc.) will last many years if you treat them properly.
Not all tomato varieties produce the same number of fruits. Cherry tomatoes are far and away the most prolific! In general, the larger the tomato fruit size, the fewer the tomatoes produced. The heart-shaped tomatoes as a group tend to produce the least. For a continuous crop of larger (i.e. not cherry) tomatoes, go for the indeterminate plants whose fruits average around 6 to 10 ounces.
So go ahead; grow your tomatoes! And may your homegrown tomatoes be abundant and delicious-tasting.