Good day to be inside today. Caleb, my apprentice, came out and we planted many things inside as the wind was blowing outside and it snowed until midday. Very cold! So he planted his tomatoes up to the next size pots, and we planted seeds of 13 collards and 14 dino kale. Then we planted 27 flowers in 2 inch pots and 2 mystery gourds as we don’t know what type it is. I’ve never planted flower seeds INSIDE before. I usually plant them directly in the ground OUTSIDE, so this is new for me. Now I need another big plant heat mat for them. For now they are on the floor by a south facing window. I may see if they germinate there as I don’t know how warm they need to be-not like tomato plants that want it warm…
Lately I’ve been getting some questions about tomato seeds not germinating from more than one grower and thought I should address some of the problems and offer some helpful tips. If you haven’t started your tomato seedlings yet, you should start now. You have 6 weeks until May 15th which is the last average freeze date here in Santa Fe. You can still get a good head start if you plant soon.
1. Tomatoes do not like cool soil. Soil temperature in the 60’s is too cold for tomatoes. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants like it very warm to germinate (in the 70-80°F). Some people put them on top of a refrigerator where it is warmer. Even if your days get warm where ever you live, if your nights still get chilly (i.e. in the 60’s), they shouldn’t be outside. Period.
2. Get a plant germination heating mat. The best thing you can do if you plan to germinate some of your own seeds is get an electric plant germination heating mat. Amazon has a lot different sizes on the internet here. You may be able to find them at one of your local nurseries (but not at a big box store). It will keep the soil evenly warm-in the 70-80’s°F range. My tomato seeds germinated in less than a week with them sitting on it inside the house.
3. Plant tomato seeds 1/4 inch deep and put sand on top of them instead of the ‘soil’ (like play sand from Home depot or Lowes). This makes it easier for the seed to push through to the top.
4. Make a solution of Chamomile tea to ward off dampening disease. Dampening disease is a soil borne disease that sometimes attack seedlings right after they come up. You’ll know if if you get it because the new seedling wilts and dies. This usually happens when the first 2 leaves (called cotyledon leaves) pop up.
I put one tea bag in a cup of hot water (like you would drink) and then when it is cool, transfer it to a little sprayer (like what you might use for your hair) and spray those new leaves. There are some properties in Chamomile tea that thwart off this disease-try it-it really works. After 4 of the true leaves, (they are the next leaves that come up that look like tomato leaves) I stop using the Chamomile tea.
5. Water from the bottom. This helps avoid getting ‘dampening off’ disease and also keeps the little seed from washing away when you water from the top. Put them in a sink or tray with some water and when the soil absorbs the water, it will look damp in top.
6. Transplant after you get 4 true leaves to the next bigger container. I’m assuming you start with small containers. Plant them deep-up to their first true leaves. They will root along the stem and become stronger. Every time you transplant up, bury your stems deeper. Always use disinfected pots-use 10% bleach solution to water to rinse your pots in.
7. Give them light. They need light and lots of it. If you don’t have a light box then put them in a south facing window and rotate them daily as they will lean toward the light. Be careful you don’t fry them with too much heat from a hot window. For those of you that have them under lights keep the lights about 2 inches above the seedlings and raise the lights as the plants grow. This will help keep them from getting ‘leggy’.
8. Give them dark. Yes that’s right. Plants need a period of darkness for photosynthesis to take place. I give mine 8 hours of darkness at night. Photosynthesis is the process where the plant takes the energy it gets from light in daytime and converts it into sugars as plant food. I have my lights plugged into a strip plug and the strip plug into a timer so I don’t have to think about it.
9. Use rock phosphate if your tomato leaves turn purple. Purple leaves means your plant is too cold. If your little tomato leaves start to turn purple (just look at the underneath side of a leaf), then they are cold and your soil is cold. They can’t access the phosphorus in the soil when the soil is cold. Get them to a warmer place and get some rock phosphate (which is a powder) and sprinkle some on top of the soil and water in. They will green up again within a couple of days.
10. Fertilize lightly. I only use thrive and diluted seaweed when I first transplant up and then only after the plant is doing well will I fertilize lightly with diluted fish emulsion. Don’t overdo it.
11. Grow thicker stems by brushing the plants. Make your tomato plants strong not leggy. You can make your plant produce stronger thicker stems by either brushing your plants with your hand when you walk by once or twice a day or put a fan on them (low speed). This mimics being outside where a breeze gives the plant a ‘work out’.
12. Keep planting up. Don’t let them stay in the same pot where they can get leggy. Once they outgrow their pot, plant up to the next size. I start with a little 6 pack and then plant up to a 2 inch pot then to a 3-4 inch pot and then to a gallon size pot if needed. I don’t use Mycorrhizal until I do the final transplanting into the ground.
I will give more tips when we are ready to transplant outside.
Now is the beginning of our season for fruit and vegetable gardeners. I got my light boxes out! Woo! Hoo! Here we go! Here are 10 things to do for or in your garden this month.
1. Finish ordering your seeds or getting your seeds if you haven’t already.
2. Get your light tables and heating mats out and ready to go. Use florescent lights that are at least 3000 lumen. I use the daylight ones. They produce less ‘leggy’ veggies.
3. Start tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds indoors to set out later as transplants depending on variety.
4. Finish your garden plans
5. Get your soil tested to see what amendments you might need to add to it.
6. Put horse manure that has been aged for at least 6 months on your garden beds and dig in. Don’t put on ‘hot’ manure.
7. Hurry up and finish pruning your fruit trees. Not much time left.
8. Spray your fruit trees with dormant oil before their buds turn color to smother any dormant bugs.
9. Water your trees.
10. Plant COOL SEASON vegetable seeds OUTSIDE on ST. PATRICK’S DAY. Some varieties include carrots, beets, lettuces, spinach, arugula, bok choy, swiss chard, onions, brocolli, cabbage, peas, radishes, mustard, kale and other greens.
Last year was my first try at growing tomatoes from seeds and I really struggled with them. They were small, stunted and turned purple. So I have done some things different this year. First I didn’t start them so early. I waited until the first week of March to plant them instead of Feburary. Second, I put the lights within 2″ of the plants at all times. Third I put up some reflective insulation which looks like silver bubble wrap all around the lightbox to keep the heat in during the day and for reflection. Fourth, I put some sheets of the insulation on top of the light box at night to keep more heat in. Fifth, I put aluminum foil on the base of the light box where the tomatoes sit on. Both the reflective insulation and the foil really make the light bounce around and give the plants more light. Sixth, the tomatoes are on a timer so the lights go off at 10:30 pm and back on at 6:30 am so they get 16 hours of light and 8 hrs of darkness. I learned in my MG class that plants need darkness to help with photosynthesis. So last year’s tomatoes turned purple as they got cold and couldn’t absorb phosphorus. But not this year. I transplanted about a week ago my first batch of tomato seedlings out of their small cell into 3″ pots. These are some pics of the first batch.
So far they are doing well. Today I transplanted the second batch that was ready. I read somewhere that you should transplant tomatoes when their first true set of leaves come out (the very first baby leaves when it germinates are called cotyledon leaves but these are not the first true leaves-the next set is) but I waited until the second set of true leaves came out and I think they’ll do better.
I buried the stems up to the cotyledon leaves and gave them some Thrive to help with the transplanting. Look how much they have grown already!
Hey- I did I mention that the site where I did my plans for my garden this year is also a good source of other info on growing veggies. I just found a great article which you may want to check out which addresses pretty much how I use my “lightbox” to get my seedlings started that I just planted on Mar.1. I use a lightbox instead of a greenhouse or hoophouse. Here is the link for the article at www.growveg.com. I made my own lightbox as seen in my previous entry but of course you can buy one at considerably higher cost. Your choice.
TIPS FOR STARTING SEEDS UNDER A LIGHTBOX
I’m waiting for my seeds to germinate. They are on a heat mat to help with germination and I cover them with a clear top which keeps the moisture in. After the seedlings germinate, I will move the lights down within 2″ of the baby seedlings and take them off the heat mat and take off the cover so they don’t stay too moist as that is a condition for a fungal disease called damping-off which kills seedlings. To help prevent this besides taking off the clear cover, I spray the little seedlings every few days with Chamoille tea which I just make up a pot of it (cool it) and put it in a little hand held sprayer and spray the seedlings AND soil every few days-it really works-no dead seedlings!