You can never have too many tomatoes. If you don’t get round to eating all your crop from fresh off the vine, there is always tomato sauce to be made. I don’t mean trying to perfect your own ketchup but, a busy well organised kitchen should always be thankful of fresh tomato sauce for spaghetti, pastas and, of course pizza! Even before you want to make the effort of these wonderful uses of home-made tomato sauce, there are salsas and vinaigrette salads for wraps and dips. Tomatoes are needed.
The good news is, we can start indoors, while Mother Nature throws the worst of the cold damp weather at us. So here we go;
Get a sturdy tray and fill with a sterile, well-moistened, seed-starting mix. Make shallow furrows with a pencil about ¼ “deep and drop seeds along the furrow. Cover with soil and water very gently. It is important to not waterlog or let your seed tray dry out. Some people like to cover their seed tray before sprouting where humidity will help but this also blocks out the sunlight, so a sensible cover should be used.
Most important is to get your watering just right. Holes in a cover or an open tray in a warm place should do fine while the seed compost creates the germination. You can expect a few casualties but you should expect a good turnout for first roll call. As soon as you see your first shoots appear after about 10 days to 2 weeks you can transport the tray to a warm sunny window ledge. Your first cotyledon leaves should be a vibrant green indicating all is well.
For optimal growth from now on, up to 16 hours of light will help and keeping them in a warmish place is also vital. The new shoots will bend to the light so keep turning your tray everyday so they grow straight. They will soon look good unattended a long as they have moisture in the soil. If you are trying more than one variety remember to add labels at this stage.
You should look for true tomato leaves appearing above the infant leaves around a month and they are ready to pot. Four leaves is a good sign. A good quality potting soil should be used so fill about one inch in your pot and carefully transport your precious cargo, caring to get all the soil surrounding the delicate roots. Careful prizing with an old fork should help.
Have about a 4” square of soil space and your bottom soil should allow for 4 to 6 inch deep potting depth. This mean the leaves are just visible above the soil which is fine. The root will sort themselves out burrowing for moisture so don’t over water and keep them warm. You can repeat your efforts once your plant are about 8 to 10 inches tall. Each time you repot, just remove lower leaves and plant deep enough to promote vigorous root growth.
So the outdoor temperatures are climbing and Jack Frost has sodded off for another year. Great, time to prepare your plants for the big transfer into the garden. Before they are ready they should be ‘hardened off’. Over a week they should be introduced to full sunlight near a window and open back doors can provide some fresh air. Give this at least a week and don’t be too hasty to plant outside. The shock of a new environment is what kills plants more than the conditions.
Okay, the big day has arrived. Your tomatoes are ready to be planted outdoors. Tip out your plants carefully and trim off the lower leaves so you can place cleanly into your dug hole. Once again make sure most of the plant is covered and water lightly once in.
Now it’s down to the weather and some plant food. As soon as you get significant growth you can arrange your tresses and try and tease the tomato vines up the wooden supports. Tomato varieties are usually heavy croppers these days so expect to support a fair bit of weight across the struts. They should grow healthily and vigorously on their own, but it never hurts to talk to them once in a while. Ask them why they don’t want to end up as ketchup!