Posted 23rd May 2015
It's British Tomato Week (18th to 24th May) and to round the week off we have taken an extract from the brilliant new Epic Tomatoes book by Craig LeHoullier to show you, step by step, how to grow your own tomatoes from seed
Seed starting, step by step
1. Fill the containers with dry planting mix to within 1/8 inch from the top. Gently water the container or individual cells with warm water until it drains slightly through the bottom.
2. Place individual tomato seeds onto the surface of the wet planting mix. It’s up to you how many seeds you plant, from 1 to 50 for a cell that is 1½ inches square. This may be surprising, but it is absolutely fine to plant thickly and separate seedlings later on if you choose.
3. Sift just enough dry mix over the seeds to cover them completely. Gently mist the top of the flat or container with water, using a fine sprayer. Loosely cover the container or flat with a fresh sheet of plastic wrap. Clear plastic domes can also be used.
4. Move the planted flats or containers to where they will spend time germinating. Light is not necessary, but warmth is recommended. Watch for signs of life after three or four days. Once seedlings start emerging, gently flip the plastic over and replace it each day to provide some air and to allow the condensation that builds up on the plastic to dry. Germination typically starts with the small loop of the emerging seedling showing above the surface, followed by the appearance of the first, smooth-edged 'leaves'. (Actually called cotyledons, or seed leaves, these are uniquely different from the true leaves that will follow.)
5. Once the majority of seedlings emerge, remove the plastic and ensure that the flats or containers get plenty of bright light. If you must, you can place the seedlings in front of a sunny window. Turn them daily to counteract the stretching-toward-the-sun process, a normal phenomenon called phototropism.
A better option is to set the seedlings in a cool spot, such as a garage, under grow lights (fluorescent tubes of any kind). Suspend the lights just over (within an inch) of the tops of the plants, raising them as the seedlings grow. Keep the lights on during the daytime and off at night. The combination of strong light and cool conditions will help the plants develop healthy, stocky stems.
Transplanting, step by step
1. Fill the container with planting medium, overfilling and then leveling it off. Remove a plug of seedlings of a single variety, gently squeeze the root area to start separating the seedlings, then gently pull the mass apart into single seedlings. Place a single seedling on top of each of the filled pots. I typically plant the largest 18 seedlings; there is always plant size variation in a plug of seedlings.
2. Push each seedling gently but quickly and firmly into the pot until just the true leaves are sticking out of the soil, then pull the soil around the planting hole.
3. Using a watering can, gently but thoroughly water each of the pots until water starts to emerge from the bottom, focusing the stream at the soil surface so as to not wet the foliage.
4. Write the variety name on labels and then insert one into each pot. Place the planted flat on a garage floor or some other area of even, suitable temperature completely out of direct sun.
Epic Tomatoes – How to select and grow the best varieties of all time by Craig LeHoullier, published by Storey Publishing, is available to buy from all good book stores, RRP £14.99.
LandLove readers can order copies of Epic Tomatoes for the special price of £12.99 (RRP £14.99), including free p&p in the UK mainland. To order, please contact EFC Bookshop on 01872 562 327 (www.efcbookshop.com) quoting offer code: Epic.
Photos (c) Stephen L. Garrett except for pg. 71 (c) ShoeHeelFactory