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Tomatoes from seed: an easy way to experiment.

If you've never grown tomatoes from seed, you might be surprised at how easy it is. You can try new varieties (mail-order seeds of less common tomatoes now) and work on getting healthy seedlings ready in time for your growing season.

Plan to allow five to seven days for germination and 8 to 10 weeks for seedlings to reach optimum transplanting size.

Gardeners in low and intermediate deserts should start seeds right away, since the season for tomato planting outdoors starts as early as this month in some areas, and by mid-March other places. For the California coast and interior valleys, plant outdoors in April or May; in the Pacific Northwest, high desert, and snowy-winter areas, put out seedlings in May or early June.

How to sow-and grow-tomatoes

Use a sterilized potting mix to fill flats, cell-packs, or such containers as cut-off milk cartons, or start with peat pellets. Sow seeds 1/3 to 1/2 inch deep. Don't sow too thickly: plant a maximum of three seeds per cell or pellet.

Keep the growing medium moist, not soggy, and cover containers or flats with clear plastic to prevent drying out. The ideal temperature for germination is 75[degrees]. After germination, remove the plastic. Thin seedlings in flats to about 1 inch apart. In cell-packs or peat pellets, it's a good idea to snip out all but the strongest seedling of each group. Some gardeners leave two seedlings per cell, but it's tricky to untangle the root systems when transplanting, and crowding can mean spindliness unless you have optimum light. Ideally, plants should have about 12 hours of light a day; a fluorescent source about a foot above the foliage works well.

Wait until plants in flats have a second set of leaves (their first true leaves) before you separate them. They should be ready for 4-inch pots then. Whenever plants outgrow their containers, move them into larger quarters so they stay in peak condition until planting time. If you must delay planting, you may end up moving them into gallon containers. If your plants are a little leggy, plant them deep at transplanting. Roots will sprout from the lower stem. (Be sure to gently pinch off leaves that would be below the soil line.)

Once plants are growing well, give them a half-strength dosage of liquid fertilizer. Continue feeding according to label directions as plants develop. Tomatoes do best in a sunny spot, in soil that has plenty of organic matter. Support with stakes or cages. Give deep waterings.

Where to get seeds

If you can't find the seeds you want at your nursery or in your favorite catalog, write for the catalog of a mail-order specialist. Two that offer more than 150 varieties are Tomato Growers Supply Company (Box 2237, Fort Myers, Fla. 33902) and The Tomato Seed Company Inc. (Box 323, Metuchen, N.J. 08840).
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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