The Language Of Love - Tomatoes
By Jos Van Hage
What does Valentines day and tomatoes have in common? They are both associated with love, as tomatoes were once known as 'love apples'.
February is also the time of year to start tomato seeds if you want to grow your own tomatoes from seed. Tomatoes require a long growing season and should be started 6-10 weeks indoors before they are placed outdoors after all risk of frost has passed.
If you have never started tomatoes from seed before don't let that stop you, as tomato seeds are quite easy to start. At the greenhouse we use plastic trays and place the plastic inserts inside the tray. Fill the inserts with a starter mix that has been moistened with water and then place the tomato seeds on top of the moistened soil, evenly spacing the seeds apart and then cover them with a fine layer of dry starter mix and gently press down so that the seeds come into contact with the moistened starter mix.
It is very important to keep the starter mix slightly moist during the germination process, so placing a plastic dome over the tray will help with the moisture. If the starter mix becomes dry add some room temperature water to the bottom of the tray so that it will soak up or use a misting bottle to gently spray the top of the starter mix as you don't want to disturb the seeds. To help the seeds germinate put the tray in a place where it will receive bottom heat as this helps in germinating the seeds. There are heating mats available at the garden centre for this purpose. Ideally the soil temperature should be 24-30 Celsius.
After 5-10 days seeds should germinate and the plastic dome is then removed. Light is very important to grow strong healthy plants and so placing the tray in a south facing window or by putting fluorescent lights 6-8 inches above the young seedlings will be very beneficial. If you have the seedlings in a window you want to rotate the tray every few days to ensure even growth as plants tend to grow towards the light.
The young seedlings are ready to be transplanted into individual containers as soon as they have their first true leaves which is the second set of leaves that appear (the first set of leaves are the seed leaves). Plant the young transplants into 3-4 inch containers that are filled with a high quality potting mix. After the plants have been transplanted fertilize them first with 10-52-10 and then switch to 20-20-20 and later use a tomato fertilizer as this will help in the production of flowers and fruit.
Sometimes the plants can become leggy. Not enough light can cause this or too high of temperatures. If the plants are leggy it is not a huge problem as this can be remedied when transplanting. Instead of re-planting the tomato plant at the same depth as before, plant it deeper. Tomato plants are able to form roots on their stems when the stem is buried under the soil. Towards the end of April or beginning of May the plants can be hardened off to get them ready to be placed outdoors. To harden them off place them outside during the day and bring them back in at night. This will get them ready to be placed outdoors after all risk of frost has passed.
The selection of seed varieties right now in the garden centre is at its best. All the seed companies have their seed displays out and the displays are full. When you shop early there will not be any disappointment of sold out varieties.
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