Growing tomatoes from seed indoors is not that hard to start. Normally the time to start your tomatoes seeds is about six to eight weeks before the last expected spring frost date in your area, plant the tomatoes seedlings outdoors about two weeks after that date. Another way to figure is to plan on setting out sturdy seedlings in the garden when night temperatures stay in the mid fifty degree Fahrenheit range both day and night. Count back and sow the tomatoes seeds six to eight weeks before that date normally arrives. If you do not feel confident about the timing you can consult an experienced gardening friend, or more still ask at a good garden center or you can easily seek the advice of your local Master Gardener program. The following are the steps on how to grow tomatoes from seed indoors;
Step one: Starting the tomatoes indoors, in a container of well moistened, sterile seed-starting mix, make a shallow furrows with a pencil or chopstick of about 1/4 inch deep. Sow the tomatoes seeds by dropping them along the bottom of the furrows ½ inch apart.
Step two: Gently pinch together the soil to cover each furrow, covering the seeds 1/4 inch deep. Water gently and then label each of the varieties. Put the container in a warm place, seventy-five to eighty degree Fahrenheit. As soon as the tomatoes seed begin to germinate and the stems start to show above the soil, it’s very important to provide a strong light source such as fluorescent bulbs or a very sunny window.
Step three: The seedlings will germinate within 7 days. What will appear first are the “baby” or “cotyledon” leaves. The careful labeling of each of the variety is very important as they all look alike.
Step four: After 15 days, the tomatoes seedlings will be still tiny with just baby cotyledon leaves, but they will be growing well. Note the nice green color of the baby leaves. This actually indicates that the plants are getting enough bright light to thrive.
Step five: After 30 days the first set of the “true” tomato leaves will begin to appear above the baby cotyledon leaves.
Step six: Now that the true leaves have actually emerged on all the tomatoes seedlings, it’s time to transplant the tomatoes seedlings to larger individual containers so that they can have enough room to properly grow and develop. Actually this process is called “pricking out” the tomatoes seedlings.
Step seven: To “prick out:” lift the tomatoes seedlings from below, holding each one gently by their baby cotyledon leaves and scooping up the entire soil ball from below. Using an old fork works very well for this.
Step eight: If the roots have grown together into a clump you can gently tease the tomatoes seedlings apart, holding by baby cotyledon leaves.
Step nine: Transplant each of the seedling into its own container (at least three to four inches in diameter) filled with a very good quality, well moistened potting mix. Make a hole to receive each of the seedlings.
Step ten: Insert each of the tomatoes seedlings into the hole to the base of its cotyledon leaves.
Step eleven: The tomato seedlings will readily grow new roots along with their buried stems and the resulting plants will be sturdy and vigorous. You have to gently water in the seedlings to settle the plants.
Step twelve: Remember that the tomatoes seedlings need to be kept at about sixty-five to seventy degrees Fahrenheit after they have true leaves and until they are ready to go into the garden.
Step thirteen: When the spring weather has warmed up and the night temperatures are regularly in the fifty-five degree Fahrenheit range, it’s time to plant the well rooted, established tomatoes seedlings outdoors. First plan to acclimate the plants, move the plants outside into the sun, first for a few hours, and then gradually increasing over a weeks’ time until they are in full sun all day. This process is actually called “hardening off” and it helps to avoid transplant shock.
Step fourteen: At transplanting time, if the hardened off young plants are actually more than six inches tall you can remove the bottom branches before planting. New roots will actually form along the buried stem.
Step fifteen: Prepare the hole to receive the tomatoes seedling.
Step sixteen: Tip out the tomatoes plant by overturning the pot to squeeze or tap out the entire root ball.
Step seventeen: Settle the tomatoes seedling into the hole, so the entire stem will be covered up to where the leafy branches begin. Pull the soil around the tomatoes plant and firm.
Step eighteen: Water the plant gently but thoroughly and erect the tomato supports. Make sure they are well secured, because the tomatoes plants will grow large and heavy with fruit, you will need a very strong support for the branches.
Step nineteen: Enjoy your harvest! For some heirloom varieties it’s actually best to wait for full ripeness before picking the luscious, color fruit.