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.
Here we go-Cold weather AT NIGHT again. Today the weather is cold high 56°F and low 25°F, already snowing a little bit. It’s ok , we desperately need the moisture. Unfortunately we are also going to get high winds-up to 70 mph! Above is the forecast for the next 5 days.
All 60 tomatoes and giant pumpkins, giant squash and marrows are inside and waiting to go out but I’m hanging tight and will wait till the nights are a little warmer and above freezing. I will still plant them in wall of waters for extra protection when they go out but why throw them out when I know what’s coming…I try to sneak them out early every year but I just have to wait and see. Our first frost freeze date is May 15th and it looks like we might go to then..
Ok, yesterday I made another mess in the kitchen. I transplanted more tomatoes up to bigger pots from 2 inch pots to 4 inch pots. I washed the empty pots in bleach water and after planting them, I fertilized them with a weak solution of fish emulsion and Thrive. I knew I needed to transplant them as their roots were growing out of the bottom and they were starting to look stressed. Stressed? How can they be stresssed when they are in a nice warm cozy house under gro lights in a controlled environment-just wait till they get out in the ground, then they’ll be stressed! I tell them they got it cushy now. I think they know their going out early!
I’m chomping to get the tomatoes out. Patience, I tell myself. I looked up when I planted the tomatoes last year and the year before. Last year I planted tomatoes on May 4th and the year before I planted on April 29th when we had a warmer spring. So I guess I’ll wait till around the first of May. It’s always a guessing game when to plant if you want to plant earlier than the first frost free date which is May 15th here in Santa Fe. I like to try to sneak in the tomatoes early because I grow so many mid-late varieties which can take all the way up to 100 days+ to harvest. We have such a short growing season here in Santa Fe that I use all kinds of season extenders to get them in early so they have more time to ripen before that first frost next fall. OMG! I can’t be talking already about fall, we just got into spring and the plants aren’t even in the ground!
Last evening I planted my tomato seeds-both heirloom and hybrid seeds. I brought out and set up the light boxes and heating mats last week. Before planting my seeds, I always clean the little pots with some bleach water that I use for starting tomato seedlings. It’s important to disinfect the pots because you don’t want your plants to pick up any soil borne diseases. I use about a 10% bleach to water ratio. I use the kitchen sink and try to not get dirt everywhere from the used pots. The trick is to convince your partner that it is ok! Just tell them you are disinfecting the sinks out (which is true)! I picked up the seed starting soil-Metro mix 300 from Agua Fria Nursery last week. It comes in a big bag but you will be planting up into larger containers in a few days after the second set of true leaves appear and besides if you have any left over, you can use it for next year. I’ve bought many seed starting soil mixes (usually at the big box stores) and hate the way the water rolls off of the soil when you first go to use it. With this soil mix (Metro Mix 300) I just plant the tomato seeds about 1/4 inch deep and water it all at once. It saves time and anything that saves time I like!
After I water the seeds, I put them under my lights and on top of a heating mat which is great for warming the soil for the seeds to germinate. I’m starting the tomatoes later this year because last year I started the first week of March and they got too big-about 3-4 feet tall because I couldn’t put them out with the cold spring we had. This year I’m hoping to get them transplanted into the garden around mid April (with protection) weather permitting. Why do I think I might be able to get them in early this year? We are in a La Nina which generally means warmer weather in spring but less rain. By planting them later if I have to, they shouldn’t be as big as last year.
You can buy light boxes to start your seedlings in or you can make it. This is nothing fancy but works like a charm. Here is my simple light box I built myself with some scrap lumber I had around the house. It will fit between 2-4 big trays under the lights. See pictures for details of construction. I had already built them (I have two) or I would have done a step by step but I think you’ll be able to follow.
1. BASE: I use plywood – 2′ x4′ by 1/2 inch thick piece for the base of the box that I attach with screws to 2″ x 4″x 2′ on the short sides (depth). The base is now done.
2. TALL VERTICAL SIDES: I attached 1″ x 2″ x 45″ pieces to each corner with screws. I connect with screws on the short sides (depth) another piece of 1″ x 2″ x 2′ to hold them together.
3. CROSSPIECES LENGTHWISE: To connect the top pieces for stability and to also hang the lights, I attach (2) 2″ x 2″ x 4′ across the width.
I screwed them in from the outside. They are set 6″ in from the front and back so the lights can hang and not touch each other.
4. CHAIN TO HANG SHOP LIGHTS: I buy around 40″ on light chain and get some hooks to go into the light slots to hang the lights. Each light will have 2 chains. The chains can be raised as the plants get taller.
4. FOIL INSULATION: I buy a roll of foil insulation (looks like foil bubble wrap) from Home Depot or Lowes to wrap the outside of the light box on three sides. I attach it with wrapping tape to the corners. I left the front piece separate so I can take it on and off. Notice the screws in the front of the wood so I can hang the front piece of insulation off them. I made some holes in the foil (I reinforced the area where the holes will be with more packing tape so the holes won’t stretch too much).
Here it is with the front piece on. I leave this on all the time as it makes it warmer except if I need to get to the plants for watering. I also like the reflection of light from the insulation when the lights are on providing more light to the plants.
I also have an extra piece to put on top of the lights at night. I keep my house pretty cool at night (64°F) and find having a top keeps some of the heat in. I don’t put the top piece of insulation on top of the lights until I turn off the lights at night and I take it off in the morning when the lights go back on.
Here it is ready to start seeds inside.
Next: What kind of inside lights to use for starting seedlings