The tomato seeds are starting to germinate in their trays. It has taken only 5 days! Still more to germinate but many are already up. A few haven’t germinated so I will replant if they don’t come up in a few days. They are under fluorescent ‘daylight’ T-8 lamps that are in a standard 48″ fluorescent light fixture that I got from Home Depot. They are also on heat mats and I have a heat mat thermostat set to 80 degrees. The heat mats and thermostat I got at Amazon. I never use to use a thermostat but one year without it, the temperature went to 100 degrees and the seeds fried. With a thermostat, it controls the temperature perfectly to whatever is the optimum temperature for each crop. In this case, the optimum range for tomato seeds for germination is between 70-85 degrees.
Every year it seems, I adjust my tomato seed planting schedule. This year is the latest I’ve ever started my tomato seeds-April 5th. Still trying to tweak it out about when the best time is to start them. If I plant seeds too early, the plants will get too tall before I transplant them outside in wall of waters. Last year I started seeds March 29th. So we will see how they do.
A couple of things have allowed me be able to start them later and get them in the garden earlier.
First, since I changed to Batch 64-Moonshine soil mix (from Agua Fria Nursery), the plants take off growing like a rocket as soon as they germinate. The list of ingredients in it is unbelievable. Once the seeds germinate, there is enough nutrients in this soil mix to basically fertilize your seedling for 6 weeks without adding anything else (except maybe liquid seaweed and Vitamin B at transplanting time to reduce transplant shock). Now I can plant them outside in 5 weeks instead of the 7-8 weeks in years past.
Secondly, I now start my seeds in these germination trays (see pic) where the cells are close together. The trays being shallower, seem to speed the germination process too—less soil to heat. These are a 20 row seedling flat.
Thirdly, it seems to be getting warmer sooner in the spring here in Santa Fe or at least that is my experience. Using wall of waters to protect the young tomato plants from cold nights, I was able to transplant my tomato plants outside on May 3rd, shaving 13 days off the ‘frost free’ date of May 15 that we have here in Zone 6b. They did just fine in their wall of waters. But last year we were in a warm drought and this year may be different with all the precipitation we got this winter. We’ll see.
And lastly, maybe, just maybe, I’ve become a better gardener through the years…
Every year I get lots of questions on how to start seeds and transplant seedlings. To see how I start the seeds go here, but here’s how I transplant my baby seedlings up into larger pots.
Here are the seedlings today from when I planted on February 8. Notice the first true leaves are showing. They are now ready to transplant. Can’t let them get too big in these shallow seedling trays. With my marks, I can see what didn’t germinate.
Here’s the line up of what each number represents again if you want to see how each seed variety grew.
I use 4 and 6 pack pots for transplanting up. I disinfect them in a kitchen sink full of water with about 2 tablespoons of bleach. Just dunk the pots and any trays you may use and then rinse them off and they are ready to plant. You don’t have to scrub them, just dip them in quickly, like they use to do with the glasses in those old college bars (oops, giving away my past!) If they are brand new, never been used before, then skip the bleaching.
I’m using ‘Moonshine’ planting soil. I talked about it here. Great stuff.
Be sure to pre-moisten the planting soil. Here I’m using a shallow ‘Tub Trug’. I love those tubs—so handy-from this to harvesting crops later and they come in fun colors.
Make some holes with your finger big enough to accommodate the root ball. You’ll be surprised how big the little rootballs are.
I take a small knife (this one plastic) and gently pry up the seedling out of the tray and carefully put it into a hole I made in the soil.
Pick up seedlings by the leaves NOT the stem. The stems can get easily damaged so always handle them from the leaves. Notice the roots! I usually like to put the stems a little deeper in the hole so they stand upright.
Gently pack the soil around them so they are sitting up nicely and not leaning.
Water them with a diluted solution of seaweed fertilizer and Superthrive to help with any transplant shock. Do NOT give them any fish fertilizer as that may give them too much nitrogen when first transplanting and send them into shock. Wait a couple of weeks before giving them any fertilizer with nitrogen. The seaweed and thrive help reduce any transplant shock.
Here is one of the first flats transplanted. Ain’t they pretty?! Now they are ready to take off and really grow! The next replanting will be into the greenhouse raised beds when they are bigger!
I planted some lettuce and greens seeds on Feb 8 and by Feb 11 some are already germinating! That’s only 3 days. Wow. Unbelievable! Here’s the lineup again and how they’re doing so far:
#1 Yugoslavia Red lettuce just peaking up
#2 Santoro barely peaking up
#3 Slow-Bolt Cilantro not up
#4 Carmel spinach just starting to come up
#5 Baby Pak Choi way up
#6 Forellenschuss lettuce way up
Not surprising, the two larger seeds #3, the Slow-Bolt Cilantro and the #4 Carmel Spinach are slower to germinate. I imagine the bigger the seed, the longer it takes to germinate. But to my surprise, the spinach is starting to come up already and the little seeds like lettuce just exploded through the soil. Amazing. I’m totally surprised how fast some of them have germinated.
Now I just got to make sure to mist them heavily 2x-3x a day to keep the soil moist while they all germinate. I will spray diluted Chamomile tea on the baby seedlings tomorrow to keep Damping Off disease from coming. It works great.
Greens/lettuce seeds started inside February 8
Yesterday I planted some lettuce and greens seeds. Here’s how I do it:
I bought these flats above for starting seeds indoors and under lights. I cut them into thirds as I like I them a little smaller as they are easier to handle and not so flimsy.
I like shallow containers to start SMALL seeds as it is easier to get the correct soil temperature needed for germination and I can plant a lot of seeds in a small space. Bigger pots for small seeds are harder to get the soil temperature correct. Optimal seed germination temperature for greens and lettuces it is 65-70 °F and it should take between 7-10 days to germinate.
Before I put in the seeds, I marked each row with a dot (I used a silver sharpie) one inch apart so I could evenly space the seeds and that way I can also see if a seed germinated by that dot. I use Metro Mix 360 soil for starting seeds. I pre-moisten the soil.
I used a pencil to make a small hole in the Metro Mix and put a seed in it. Afterwards I put ‘kiddie’ play sand over each row to cover the seeds and pat it down. Small seeds can easily break through the sand when germinating. I would use bigger pots for larger seeds. You must keep the soil moist at all times till they germinate. Because the trays are so shallow, I only have to mist the pre-moisten soil with a sprayer, sometimes several times a day. You could put a clear top on it till germination happens. I never put the trays under a faucet to water as that could move the seeds around.
Here I have them sitting on a heat mat but I don’t turn the mat ‘on’. For greens/lettuces I put the probe in the soil to see what temperature it is at with the thermostat. I find for greens/lettuces the lights above the seed trays provide all the heat needed to stay in that temperature range. Here the thermostat reads 66°F. I’ll turn seedling heat mats on later for warm season crops like tomatoes which like the soil temperature much warmer for germination. The thermostat is great for controlling the temperature.
I identify each row with a number and then keep a record of what each number represents instead of trying to write down what it is on that little piece of tape. There are 12 dots so that means since there are 6 rows in each ‘mini-flat’ that there are 72 seeds in this tiny space! After they germinate and their first two true (cotyledon) leaves appear, I will transplant them each plant into a 4 pack and from there directly into a cold frame, low tunnel or greenhouse. Still too early to throw them outside without protection.
Here is what I planted:
1-Yugoslavian Red lettuce-butterhead type
2-Santoro lettuce-butterhead type
5-Baby Pak Choi
6-Forellenschuss (trout) lettuce-romaine
If you have gone through your seeds and find packets that are over 3 years old, you may want to test them for viability. Are they still good enough to plant again? Many seeds are good for 2-3 years and some much longer if they didn’t get wet or damaged. I grew the state record for giant green squash (345 lbs) from a seed that was 8 years old. I was amazed. Read about the giant green squashes here; https://giantveggiegardener.com/2011/10/04/greenies-battle-it-out-for-who-will-go-to-the-weigh-off. So sometimes older seeds are fine too. Here are some things you can do with older seeds.
- First, if they are over 3 years old I may toss them in the ground later in spring (especially flower seeds) to see if they germinate or
- I may test the seed packet (look at the date on the package) to see if they are still viable. Three years or older? Test them. To test them, take 10 seeds and soak them in water for a few hours to overnight and then put them in a damp paper towel and put them in a Ziploc bag and on a shady, warm windowsill or on top of your refrigerator (not a sunny place, you don’t wanna fry the seeds). Then in a few days check them to see how many have germinated.
- I use this chart “Germination tables from Heirloom Seeds – Know when to plant all your vegetables.” to see how long it should take to germinate a particular seed under ideal conditions. If none have germinated, keep checking them. After a few days, you’ll see some of them have germinated. So if 8 out of the 10 germinated, you have a 80% germination rate. If 5 out of the 1o seeds germinated, then you have a 50% germination rate, if only 2 have germinated than you have a 20% germination rate and so on. I would probably toss those. This chart is also great to have when we are actually ready to start seeds inside under lights or directly outside (later) to see what is the optimum soil temperature is for each seed and how long it will take to germinate. I will post later on that when starting seeds inside or outside. This is just to test for seed viability right now.
Some of you may still have the last of your tomatoes inside your house ripening. If you would like to save the seeds or if you don’t have any seeds but would like to learn how to save them for next year then read on. It’s a simple procedure where we must remove the gel from around the seeds before drying them.
But before that, the first thing to consider is if the tomato is a hybrid or an open pollinated (OP) or an heirloom tomato. Don’t save hybrid tomato seeds as they won’t grow out true meaning they will not grow out to be the same tomato. They revert to one parent or the other and are unstable so you won’t know what you’ll get. If you have open pollinated (OP) or heirloom tomatoes you can save the seeds as both will grow out into the same tomato. An exception to this might be if you plant cherry tomatoes close to the tomatoes whose seed you want to save. Cherry tomatoes could cross-pollinate with other tomatoes but most heirloom tomatoes do not cross with each other. Just grow your cherry tomatoes away from your other ones.
First you want to save a tomato that is really ripe and soft. To save the seeds from tomatoes we must remove the gel from around the seeds. Cut the tomatoes open and squeeze the tomato with the gel and seeds into a jar and add about 2-3 inches of water. Cover the jar.
In a few days you will notice that there is a white mold growing on top of the water and most of the seeds will have sunk to the bottom of the jar. Don’t freak out, this white stuff is fermentation working on your seeds.
After about 4 days, strain the tomato seeds in a fine sieve or strainer and wash the yuck and tomato stuff off of the seeds. If you wait too long the seeds will start to germinate which will ruin them.
The seeds can now be put on wax paper to dry. If you use paper towels, the seeds may stick to the paper causing trouble removing them. Be sure to label them so you remember which variety they are. After they are thoroughly dry, store them in a plastic bag or jar for next year. It’s fun to save seeds and see what happens next year.