March is time to start those tomato plants
Tips for growing vigorous Tomato plants
For most people, March is the time to start those tomatoe plants indoors. These are some of the important bits of information and techniques you may want to think about as you are planting this year’s tomato crops.
For the past few years, my primary tomato has been a Pollock Tomato, developed by Andy Pollock in BC’s mountains. It is adapted to colder weather and shorter seasons and seems to be perfect for this area. It can even take a light frost. I am trying another of Andy’s frost-resistant tomatoes this year, the Buckflats wonder, which requires an even shorter growing season. Seeds available at the Nipigon River Bait and Tackle Shop and the Gazette Offices.
There are two types of tomatoes, determinate and indeterminant. The ones I chose are indeterminant, which means they will continuously produce flowers and tomatoes. Determinant tomatoes, like Roma tomatoes, will provide one large crop of tomatoes all at once. There is a method of getting any variety of tomatoes to vine ripen at the same time called root pruning, but I will leave that for a future article.
Tomato seeds are tiny and light and do not need to be buried in the soil much at all to start sprouting. One thing essential to early sprouting is heat. Tomatoes are a warm-weather plant and will need some heat to trigger the sprouting. Using a small seed sprouting heat pad is ideal; however, placement over a radiator or heat source will help as well. Wrapping seeds in a moist paper towel and then placing them in a plastic bag and put on the heating pad will jumpstart the seeds to sprout.
The Three varieties of Tomatoes I sell at my shop. Pollock and Andys Buckflat wonders are a bit frost resistant and developed for cool, short seasons. And the Candyland red cherry tomatoes. Look in the store for more seeds…
Start the seeds by wetting the soil, sprinkling some seeds (2 or 3 in each pot), sprinkle with a thin layer of dry soil and then spray the soil until wet. Keep the soil moist by spraying often or by using a covered seed starter tray. Continue moistening the plant as it grows until the first true leaves form, being careful not to overwater. Once the first plant has its true leaves trim the other less developed tomatoes in the pot (if you planted more than one seed).
Tomato plants have tiny hairs on their stems up to the lower part of the leaves as they grow. These hairs will form new roots if given the opportunity. This ability to grow additional roots should always be taken advantage of. Each time a tomatoe is replanted, burying it down to the top leaves will promote root growth along the stem. This is typically done once when transplanting outside, either by planting them vertically very deep or horizontally in a trench. Either way, the buried stem will sprout new roots.
Another method is to utilize tall narrow pots, which you can add soil as the tomato grows, allowing the stem to produce roots as the new sections are buried. For this, you need a tall pot of some sort, with milk cartons with the top cut off being a great choice.
To allow for good strong rooting, start with deep pots. Cut off milk cartons make for ideal tomato planting pots as they are deep, waterproof and cheap. Milk cartons ill need to have drainage holes cut in the bottom.
Start by planting the seed at the bottom of the pot with maybe 2-3 inches of soil. Water with a spray bottle regularly so that the soil is moist. As the plant grows up, its roots will also be growing down. With every new layer of leaves that form, cut off the lower ones and fill with soil up to the fresh leaves. Do not cut the top off and always leave 2-4 branches at the very top. As you do this, the stem will throw out more and more roots for the entire depth of the pot. Instead of two to six inches of roots, you will have ten, twelve or more, depending on your container. This will be done again when planted into their forever pot or transplanted outside. Burying the tomato plant, so only a couple of inches of leaves are above ground, is the way to go.
Transplanting outside, you can make even more roots by planting them on their sides. The plants will right themselves, and the entire buried portion of the stem will develop roots. Make sure to trim the lower leaves where the stem will be buried, or a large sucker plant will likely form.
Tomatoes can grow in five-gallon or larger containers; however, they will need constant watering and frequent feeding but could be moved inside and continue to fruit into winter if you have chosen an indeterminant variety.