I'm just itching to start my tomato seeds, but know that waiting until 6-8 weeks before my optimal sowing date is best. Here is a blog post from Margaret Roach that tells you everything you need to know about growing good starter tomato plants.
I'm most excited about the white tomatoes that we found at the Petaluma Heirloom Seed Bank last summer. Danielle and Justin grow these at YellowTree Farm and sell them to a St. Louis restaurant for their white bloody mary - how cool is that??
What tomato varieties are you growing this year? Are any of them new to you? Tried and true favorites?
Which tomato varieties are best suited to container conditions? As a renter in the city I can't dig up my "yard," but I can get crafty with containers. I am starting small: lettuce, herbs, flowers. But I love my tomatoes and don't want to pass up growing them! I'm not sure about lead contamination in my urban soil, so I might have to plant these varieties at my folks' house in the country:
Well, Caroline, I guess I'll point you to the HOMEGROWN 101 on Container Growing and see if you can find the information there! ;)
We are growing Snow Whites and Super Lakotas. Although I think we started them a bit early as they have only been growing a week and are already getting too leggy to stay in the planting pods they are started in. I transplanted 2 of each into 4 inch peat pots and I am hoping that will give them the chance to develop more of a root system and get to the "true leaf" point. We will see. I can always buy started plants when outdoor planting time comes but I really wanted to use the seeds we started because they are local and organic heirloom varieties. Everyday I am talking to them and trying to encourage them to grow more out rather than more up...but it is probably about as useful as trying to "encourage" the kiddo to clean her room. Problem is, I can just threaten the tomatoes with a timeout if they don't grow, lol
Alix, Melissa shared this idea: How To Grow Uber Tomatoes, Even When You Start Them Too Early.
I've had good success doing this, and am still surprised how persistent a well-treated starter plan can be. I'm still waiting (impatiently) and will be using a fan to encourage hearty stems, which I haven't done in the past. Every season is another opportunity to implement what I've learned from my mistakes.
I have grown tomatoes outside in Central Idaho for 6 years. I have always had to start them inside and transplant to my gardens after the last frost. This year we set up our first large greenhouse and are growing for our local market. One major factor we didn't take into consideration with the greenhouse was too much sunlight. Shade is critical when growing in hotter climates that come with a controlled environment as in greenhouses.
I have found it best to always, when possible start the plant where it will grow if you can. This will eliminate the dreaded transplant issues. One problem most growers have with tomatoes and most plants that they don't realize is the lack of sufficient light. When plants are starting out if there in low light they grow too rapidly looking for light and end up with stems and roots that cannot support the plants. Adding a small LED or halogen grow light just above the plants stop this from happening and improve the plant in all areas of growth, i.e, roots, stem and leaf. Remember added light energy means adding more nutrient and water as well, but not too much extra water as this will promote disease.
A fan is helpful as well and helps keep the plants cool especially if the sunlight is too intense. I have had plants stop growing and start flowering too early and stop the growth process of the plant due to being in too much direct sunlight. This effects the productivity of the plant in probably the worst way, little to no fruit harvested. Usually when this happens it is best to remove the plant and start over, especially if the plant shows cosmetic issues. The rapid growth of the new plant will ultimately overcome the slow growth of the damaged plant and result in better harvest quantities even if later in the season.
Another helpful tip is tomatoes like their germination temperature to be around 87 degrees F and consistent moisture. This can be best achieved by a small heat-mat on a thermostat with a sensor to control the temp. I always water early in the morning to give the plants their moisture to utilize during the heat of the day and not lack in water in the critical heat time of the day.
Root bond plants can also be a determining factor in a plants producing quantities later on. It is best to transplant up to keep the root system growing. Once it gets bond and stops growing or changes to the flowering stage it's usually too late and the plant is already changed permanently for it's life cycle.
We are growing in pots to help control disease and eliminate nutrient issues. We plan on rotating our used soils after regenerating with organic compost to our outdoor gardens and starting fresh every year in our pots. This will ultimately improve all our soils on our small 1 acre farm. Good luck and good food!