Tomatomania: Potting Up and Lessons Learned

My indoor tomato-sprouting project has been fun but it’s taken up quite a lot of time and energy! It’s so rewarding seeing those tiny seeds sprout up and take form, but when you start too early and they do so well it means lots of potting-up. They can’t live in those little seed-starter 6-packs forever. This means lots of time, pots, soil and space.

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Lacking most of those necessary ingredients, I did manage to shift half of them into individual 4″ containers several weeks ago. They have been growing like weeds in the dining room window, though I made a mistake with those ones in the large plastic container. They appeared healthy and happy, but once I took them out I realized they’d been leaning on each other a bit too much… literally.

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For better or worse, seedlings grown indoors aren’t subjected to the same character-building forces of nature as they would be outdoors. There are things you can do to mimic outdoor conditions and grow healthy plants that will eventually survive when transplanted to the garden. One trick is to keep a fan blowing lightly on them. They respond by growing strong stems to withstand the “gentle breeze.” The plants in the container weren’t being forced to hold themselves upright or contend with any wind so once I took them out they were too weak to hold themselves upright.

Sad tomato seedlings grew leggy and weak inside a clear tub

I got the weakest plants potted up, fed and watered. I was feeling pretty down about my floppy ‘maters but we gave them stakes to lean on while they recovered and after a day or two they were upright again. Luckily tomatoes are super resilient!

Some of the plants have started blooming and it’s taking all my strength to pinch off those lovely buds so the plants can focus their energy on growing strong. I’m learning!

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Most of the plants are now 16-20″ tall and looking good. They are a little leggy from their extended time indoors, but like I said, tomatoes are super resilient. The trick with leggy tomatoes is to remove all the leaf stems up to the last bunch and bury the plant with just those top leaves showing.

It’s totally counter-intuitive to bury your nice tall plant up to it’s shoulders right? But you know those tiny hairs that grow all along a tomato stem? When buried in soil, each of those hairs will potentially become a root! Planting as much of the tomato stem as you can helps the plant build a massive root base which makes the plant stronger and healthier in the long run.

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I love sharing plants so I’ve been offering these up to my gardening neighbors and friends. About half are accounted for and the only downside I can see is that we won’t be able to share tomatoes since we’ll all have the same ones!I delivered the first batch to a friend last night. He is bravely putting them in the garden, potential frost be damned.

I’m only planting a dozen myself and I’m still not sure what I’ll do with the rest. Guess I’ll just keep potting them up and see if they’re worthy of giving away to a community garden group or a school. Maybe I can trade them for someone else’s seedlings, get a head start on cucumbers or something. I’d grow them myself but it’s time to convert the potting table to Caterpillar Corner and get back to rearing butterflies. I’ve seen half a dozen monarchs fluttering through the yard this week, maybe sniffing out my milkweed seedlings??

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Helen says:

    Great that you’re rearing butterflies!

    I haven’t started in the tomatoes yet – yours look brilliant!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you! I hope they survive my bumbling long enough to get in the ground LOL

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      1. Helen says:

        I don’t think they are hard to rear, are they?

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  2. Kathy Sturr says:

    Nice looking tomatoes! I bet your plants will be super with so many “roots!”

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Crossing fingers…

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  3. Melissa says:

    Mine are still in 6-packs, and need to be upgraded to the 4″, but I don’t have enough space under my growlights, until it stops raining and then I can relocate my flower seedlings outside to harden off. The giant puzzle of seed starting with limited space and no natural light!

    What varieties did you do?

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Yeah, same boat, it was like one of those number puzzles! I had 72 plants, two borrowed grow lights and the sunny window in the dining room. Quite a challenge! I grew 8 types, Gold Medal, Vorlon, A Grappoli d’Iverno, JDs Special C-Tek, Japanese Black Trifele, San Marzano, Zapotec and Tigerella. Let me know if you want any, I got extras 😳 I need to get you a milkweed too.

      Like

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