Tomatoes from Seed: My 10 Most Important Seed-Starting Success Factors

| 3/29/2016 9:41:00 AM

Tags: seed starting, tomatoes, garden planning, spring, Craig LeHoullier, North Carolina,

Time flies when you are having fun – and when you are busy. It slips through my fingers, and a week turns into a month. My early March MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog target is but a memory – but better late than never, they say! I hope some of you benefit from my years of experience starting lots of seeds.

How to Start a Few – Or a Lot – of Tomato (or Pepper or Eggplant) Plants from Seed

I start a lot of seedlings each spring – far more than I can fit in my garden (why start so many?  That’s another story). We don’t have a greenhouse. We don’t have much room – this is our home, after all, not a nursery. Yet, with a sunny south facing window, some inexpensive heat mats, a garage with suspended shop lights and sunny driveway, I start hundreds (in some years, thousands) of seedlings successfully. Here are what I consider to be a list of the most important details to pay close attention to.

1. Timing is Critical

Here’s a rough guide that you can use and adjust as needed: I plan on one month from seed to the time to transplant to a larger container, and one month more until the plants are ready for the garden. I, therefore, work back two months from the last frost date to determine when to start seeds.

2. It’s OK to Plant Seeds Thickly

I’ve found that, for my needs, I need to use a small area to produce a lot of seedlings. My seed-starting container of choice is a 50-cell rigid plastic plug flat, with the cells a bit over one inch in each direction.

I plant up to 50 seeds in a cell – this gives me a potential for more than 2,000 seedlings taking up a 1-by-2-foot area. This method also works well for peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, lettuce, herbs, beets, most flowers, greens. Then again, I really find the act of separating seedlings and transplanting to be very therapeutic.

Of course, planting one or two seeds per cell is just fine as well. I just need to be very efficient with my space.

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