planting tomato seeds
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!
In my previous post about germinating tomato seeds, I mentioned that I had planted quite a few seeds that were at least 10 years old. While I expected some of these seeds to germinate (I do have some rare seeds in my collection), I wasn’t expecting a high germination rate. At most, I was hoping 25%.
Wow, have I ever been surprised! For some of the varieties, the germination rate has been in the neighborhood of 75%. Brandywine is one of them; Yellow Cherry another. Then there are varieties in the 60% range, like Pineapple and White Bush. Of all the varieties I planted, only Big Rainbow has had a low germination rate. Then again, it might be that it’s been slower and more seedlings will start popping their heads above ground today or tomorrow.
I’m trying to decide if the Terracycle I sprayed on the soil on Sunday helped the germination, or at least hastened it. Sunday hadn’t shown much action with the seeds, but Monday a whole bunch showed up. Tuesday a whole lot more. And even today I see some more new seedlings starting through the soil.
The next batch of seeds, I’ll remember to spray the Terracycle sooner (my fault, my plant sprayer had disappeared and I had to go get a new one…and was a bit slow about it). But now I have a new sprayer.
There’s a Problem, Though…
I have a problem now, but it’s a good one to have. I planted way more seeds than I had needed, because I thought the germination rate would be really low. Yikes! I now have way more tomato plants than I have containers, by a large margin. Time to gift my family and friends with some seedlings, or maybe take them to a farmer’s market to sell, in another month or so (after the second transplant).
So, don’t throw out those old seeds without giving them a try, and keep in mind that they may take somewhat longer to germinate than newer seeds. Remember, when germinating, tomato seeds like warmth and humidity.
I’ll give another update next week on how the seedlings are faring.
Today was a day for tending to my tomatoes. Between planting tomato seeds, re-potting seedlings and transferring larger seedlings to the garden, it’s been busy. But a fun kind of busy, because the weather was gorgeous and it was nice being out in the fresh air and sunshine.
Tomato Varieties – Re-Potted
OK, first was transplanting some small tomato plants up. These were seeds I planted about 3 weeks ago, and they were growing very strongly. These were Supersweet 100, a hybrid indeterminate red cherry tomato. Since I had 3 Supersweet 100 plants, I am running an experiment. One I planted into its final container outside with the rest of the tomato plants. Another I planted up to the next container size and left outside in a location with bright indirect light. The final I planted to the next container size up, and I am keeping it inside, on a south-facing windowsill.
My next plant was a surprise. Some of my 10-year old seeds for White Bush sprouted and one of the seedlings was going for the sky! White Bush is, I believe, a determinate with ivory-colored skin and flesh; I didn’t save a whole lot of information on it so I am not sure (oops). It’s an open-pollinated tomato. So, I planted the strong one by itself the next container side up, and thinned the remaining to the two strongest and placed then together in the next container size up.
Then there was Yellow Cherry, another of the 10-year-old seeds. It’s an open-pollinated indeterminate yellow cherry tomato (pretty obvious from the name), but seems like it will be a smaller plant than Supersweet 100. I thinned the seedlings to the three strongest and planted them up to the next container size.
Planting Tomato Seeds – The Varieties
I also planted more tomato seeds today. Two were for heirlooms, and one for a hybrid I’ve been wanting to try.
The first heirloom seeds planted were Kellogg’s Breakfast, an indeterminate beefsteak tomato with orange skin and flesh. It’s a late season variety, so I don’t expect to be eating any of these tomatoes until sometime in May or June. But I sure am looking forward to them!
The next was the heirloom seeds for the tomato variety called Pineapple. These are the seeds I have planted for The Great Tomato Experiment, so it’s now officially underway! Pineapple is a personal favorite, with the flesh being sweet and delicious. Pineapple is a yellow tomato with red stripes on the skin and red marbling of the flesh.
My final tomato variety I planted seeds for today was Tomatoberry. It’s an indeterminate hybrid tomato whose fruit is roughly the shape and size of a large strawberry. A mid-season tomato variety, I expect to be nibbling on the first ripe fruits in late April. Tomatoberry is supposed to be be really sweet and juicy; I guess I will find out in a few months!
Plants I’m Still Waiting On
Brandywine is taking its time at the moment; lots of seeds germinated (to my surprise) from the 10-year-old seeds. The seedlings are still too tiny to re-pot though. The same goes for Big Rainbow. Both will likely be plenty big next week to re-pot to the next size container.
I had planted some Juliet seeds last week, and when I looked this morning, nary a sprout. I went about my morning chores, then all my garden work. When I came back in a few hours later, I was surprised to see 4 seedlings! Juliet is a grape-shaped cherry tomato, which I do so love to plant, seeing as they are practically foolproof to grow.
Before I leave for the day, here’s a photo of one of my first tomatoes in the garden, on the plant called Celebrity. The tomato is teeny-tiny at the moment, and hopefully it will be joined by others in the very near future.
That’s all for today; see you again tomorrow!