At today’s meeting, Ecology Club students planted tomato seeds to bring home. We hope you all enjoy growing tomatoes at home. The information below was provided in printed form to each student, but we are reprinting it here in case anyone’s instructions did not make it home with them.
Step by Step Tomatoes
1. Wait for sprouts!
While waiting for your seeds to sprout, keep the top half-inch of soil moist. A few light sprays with a mister bottle is about the right amount of water. During this time keep your seeds indoors in indirect light. You should see sprouts in 10-14 days.
2. Small seedlings!
When you see sprouts, move your seedling to a place where it can receive lots of intense light (12 hours). A south-facing window is best (but make sure to turn them daily so that all different of the plant get to face the sun on different days). You can also put them under fluorescent lights, but they need to be close (within 6 inches) to the light. These baby plants need to remain warm (between 65 – 85 degrees) so they will need to remain indoors most of the time, although you can take them outside on a warm sunny day. Water them whenever the soil begins to feel dry.
3. Getting bigger!
When the seedlings has four leaves, transfer it to a deeper pot, using a light potting mixture (see below for choices). Work with care, so as not to disturb the roots or bruise the young plants. Put a layer of potting soil (about an inch) in the bottom of the new pots, then set the seedling (including the toilet paper roll) directly in the new pot (about 4″ by 4″ works well, and 4 to 6 inches deep) and carefully fill the pot with soil, covering most of the seedling’s stem. Only the leaves should be above the soil line. If this leaves lots of space at the top of the pot, more soil can be added as the plant grows. Important: if more than one seedling sprouted, re-pot each in its own pot.
4. Plant it out!
In late April or early May, the risk of frost has passed in our area and your tomato plant is ready to be planted outdoors! Plant in the sunniest spot in your yard in a large (5-gallon) container. Bury your plant deeper than it was in the pot, all the way up to a few top leaves. Tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems. Install a store-bought or home-made tomato cage when you plant your tomato to prop up and support your tomato as it grows.
- Mulch: Mulch (using shredded newspaper or compost) after the ground has had a chance to warm up. Mulching conserves water and prevents soil and soil-borne diseases from splashing up on the plants, but if you put it down too early it will also shade and therefore cool the soil. Plastic mulch also works for tomatoes. Rule of thumb: No bare soil in a Georgia garden after May 1st.
- Remove bottom leaves: Once the tomato plants are about 3′ tall, remove the leaves from the bottom 1′ of stem. These are usually the first leaves to develop fungus problems. They get the least amount of sun and soil born pathogens can be unintentionally splashed up onto them.
- Prune: pinch and remove suckers that develop in the crotch joint of two branches. They won’t bear fruit and will take energy away from the rest of the plant. But go easy on pruning the rest of the plant. You can thin leaves to allow the sun to reach the ripening fruit, but it’s the leaves that are photosynthesizing and creating the sugars that give flavor to your tomatoes.
- Water: Water deeply and regularly while the plants are developing. Irregular watering, (missing a week and trying to make up for it), leads to blossom end rot and cracking. Once the fruit begins to ripen, lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars. Don’t withhold water so much that the plants wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit.
- Fertilize: Fertilize with a granular fertilizer once a month after re-potting. Tomato-tone is a good, organic fertilizer available at Home Depot and Lowes, and there are plenty of others out there as well. Using a liquid fertilizer (such as Miracle Grow) is not recommended because it results in very tall plants with very few tomatoes.
Potting mixtures: These can be purchased (make sure to get potting soil rather than garden soil) or you can make your own out of free Dekalb County compost using these simple steps.
1. Pick up your compost at: North Transfer Station 4600 Buford Highway Chamblee, GA 30341 Telephone: (770) 936-5433 Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM Saturday 7:00 AM- 5:00 PM. Note: you must bring your own shovel and trash bag or other container, and have a Dekalb County driver’s license
2. Amend with Dolmolite Lime, mineral salts and bone meal (follow instructions on package for amounts). One month after planting blood meal can be added (but depending upon what fertilizer you are using, this may not be necessary since Tomato Tone and many other organic tomato fertilizers already contain blood meal).
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