Yes, you may start your tomatoes

 by David Hinks

As you may recall from last week’s column I was busy planting seeds – eggplant, pepper and a half-dozen other vegetables. Pepper seeds that I planted on March 10 have germinated and look very happy, however the eggplant are just barely breaking through the ground.

As I discussed before, timing is all important. Peppers and eggplant can grow for ten weeks indoors and be healthy vigorous plants ready to plant in the garden in late May. On the other hand tomatoes need a maximum of eight weeks. When determining the indoor planting date I count backwards from when I will be planting the seedlings outdoors. Tomatoes are somewhat hardier than Peppers and Eggplant so I will be planting the tomato seedlings in the garden as much as a week or ten days before the others.

Having done all the calculations, I have determined that the time is at hand. Once again I am using a commercial soil-less mixture and new plastic inserts (I use 25cm x 50 cm plastic trays with a 32 pot insert).  I’ve filled the pots with my seeding mixture, I let them absorb moisture over night, drained off excess water in the morning, and then planted one or two seeds in each pot (following directions on the packet as to seeding depth), and then covered with a clear plastic ‘green-house’ lid (which I remove as soon as the seed has germinated). I’m planting 4 varieties (8 pots each) – A Roma or Paste tomato called Viva Italia, a full size heritage variety called Brandywine and a couple of cherry tomato varieties called Super Sweet 100 and Sun Sugar.

Not as much need to cross our fingers this time – tomatoes are not as picky about temperature as peppers and eggplant. I didn’t talk last week about the best temperatures to start seeds at. I maintain my growing operation at about 21 degrees which is a little warm for some seedlings and a little cool for others. Tomatoes will love it. Once everything is growing well I will reduce the temperature to about 18.

One thing I do after planting the seeds is to maintain charts of what I have planted – both indoors and outdoors – at times I supplement this with labels but I find that these get lost, move or fade. No job is finished until the paperwork is done!

One new thing I’m trying to grow this year is oat grass which some pets find is an appealing snack.

Here I had the choice of buying a very small packet of seed from a garden centre for $2.49 or of visiting the fantastic feed store at Packenham and purchasing an eight-pound bag of seed oats for $3.00 (guess what my choice was). I will obviously have a lot of oats left over – I plan to use them for a green crop on some of my growing beds after I harvest garlic and onions in August. I planted some oats in my soil-less mix in 15 cm pots and expect they will germinate very quickly.

The other venture that I’m trying now is planting a mixture of salad greens in a larger 30 cm pot (the pot is only 12 cm deep so uses less soil)

Some mixes are available as a Mesclun mixture (an interesting expression as Mesclun is a French word meaning mixture) – some versions are sweeter as they have more lettuces – others are hotter as they have more mustards and plants from the cabbage family. I have mixed up my own version using seed from left over seed packets and included various kinds of lettuce, arugula, kale, chervil, spinach, endive, mustard, mibuna, orach and amaranth. I’ve sprinkled the seeds on the surface of the soil covered the seeds with half a cm of soil and then pressed down lightly. With any luck these will germinate in a few days and we may have a small harvest in a month and a half.

The other things that need to be done at this time are thinning and transplanting

The onions and leeks that I planted on February 24 are now 15 cm tall and getting floppy so I cut them with scissors to a height of about 8 cm and will keep doing that every week or so – I find it results in a much more robust seedling and as a bonus the trimmings can be added to my salad.

One last thought that I want to emphasize is that I am speaking only from my own very personal experience. What I am starting and growing is for a small garden that doesn’t take a lot of resources. Growers with large greenhouses have very different approaches. There are many different ways to do things with equally good results. My goal is to share my approach and let you know how it works – other approaches may work equally well – plants are very adaptable and forgiving.