Saturday, March 5, 2011

My Tomato Trick

Actually, I can't claim credit for this as my tomato trick, I learned it from Fran on the winter sowing forum at GardenWeb. I used to live one town away from Fran when I lived in Massachusetts, and sometimes we would coordinate our winter sowing efforts. She would sow tomatoes and if I had seeds she liked, I would sow extra of those for her. Anyway, this is what I do with my tiny tomato seedlings, and I learned it from Fran.



Often tomatoes grow very leggy, no matter how much light you put them under, or how close you set it. This is how I deal with that legginess.

First, I start them in only one inch of moist soil. Once they've sprouted, and are starting to show their first true leaves, instead of potting them up, I just add soil to the cup that I started them in. The tomato stalk will root in the new soil all along its length.


I hold it very gently by its seed leaves, and then very carefully spoon loose soil all around the stalk. It's important to be gentle, because if the stalk breaks it's a goner. Then I spray it with water on top to clean some of the soil off the leaves, and set it in a few inches of water, until the new soil has drawn water up into the cup.

About a week later, I give them all a nice drink of fish emulsion (actually, Fran doesn't use fish emulsion, I added that part because I prefer keeping the seedlings organic). I keep an eye on them to make sure the soil doesn't dry out.

The ones in these photos were topped up with soil on February 18. Today they look like this:


I plan to leave them in these cups until I set them out at the beginning of April. I'll give them another couple of drinks of fish emulsion, and probably some seaweed extract too.

And when I set them out in the garden, I will dig an extra deep hole, strip off some of the leaves, and set as much of the stalk as possible into the hole, so it can continue to root.

This trick works really well for me. Now, if the weather here would only cooperate and give us some heat this summer, I will be happy.

17 comments:

  1. This is a great tip. I see that you are recycling the plastic cups too. My biggest weakness is using too much strenght with my fingers and always breaking the stems, so I have many goners!

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  2. I am definitely going to steal your tip. I haven't started tomatoes yet. I just don't have room right now, but soon. "Fran's" trick is good to know.

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  3. You are such a good Tomato Mommy!!! All that gentle, loving attention...your plants will be so happy to pay you back for your efforts with delicious, sweet, plump, juicy tomatoes :)

    Thsnks for sharing such a great tip, too!!!

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  4. Alison,

    Looks like a really good trick. I will be trying this soon! Thanks!

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  5. That's a useful and nice tip! I should keep it in mind. Thank you for sharing it.

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  6. Great idea. I also plant my tomatoes very deep, but I cannot plant them into the garden until late May or even early June.

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  7. I plant my tomato plants deep, but never thought about doing that with the seedlings. I wonder if I can do that without breaking the little stems. What kind of soil do you use?

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  8. Great idea! You're right in that we sure need some warm weather. Hurry up spring!

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  9. Very Interesting ~ Great tutorial! Here's hoping we get a warm summer! Cheers, Jenni

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  10. What a marvelous trick! I always just planted my leggy seedlings up to the first leaves so they'd put on roots up and down, unlike many plants that won't do that. Your method gives them a chance to have lots of roots at transplant time.

    BTW, my Seedscatterer.blogspot.com blog has a tutorial of a sort on Blotanical. The title is 'Are You My Mentor?' and is more in depth than the Dotty Plants One.

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  11. Hey! That is a marvelous trick. And, I'm thrilled to see that you use the same drink cups I do for starting seeds. ('Cause now I know I'm doing it right! :)

    Say, I brought some goodies back from Italy and I'd love to send you a little something. Please email your mailing address to me? kate.miller57@gmail.com

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  12. This works with peppers as well, even the brassicas don't mind having their stems buried a bit. I have all my little plastic cups ready, now I need to just sit and wait for time to plant. I just prepped the cups last night. I found my glue gun worked great for putting drainage holes in them, I just plugged it in and when it was hot, I held the tip to the bottom of two nestled cups at a time. They have to be pulled apart right away, or they fuse together ;-)

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  13. I would also be interested to hear what type of soil you use. I wish I had enough time to start my own seeds. I will one day! Anything for healthy. plump tomatoes.

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  14. Thanks for letting me know what kind of soil you use. I don't think I've heard of that brand or that store. I'll have to see if I can find it locally.

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  15. I just discovered your blog through Desiree, and so glad I did. I always plant my tomatoes very deep knowing that they grow new roots from the hairs on the stems, but this is a great idea to get them long rooted right from the beginning.

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