Posts tagged ‘seed starting’

How To Grow Uber Tomatoes, even when you start them too early

…by using recycled coffee cups to maximize root size. Every year I start my tomatoes in February. I don’t have a south facing window–I am totally reliant on shop lights to help them grow. But instead of being leggy, my tomatoes are crazy drought-proof beasts that take over the world. Last year, my Matt’s Cherry tomato grew about 9 feet wide, and the neighbours had to cut it back just to figure out where the fence was so they could park their car. That’s because the root ball was deep enough to support it. My secret is using recycled coffee cups to help gradually build up the root ball.

Step 1. Get everyone you know (and their office) to collect coffee cups. Sort them by size, because you will want to start with the small ones. Poke drainage holes.
poke drainage holes
Step 2. Remove your leggy tomato seedling from the cellpack (I plant all my seeds in cell packs recycled from past years, because most greenhouses won’t recycle them), and place at the bottom of a small cup. See the first leaves at the bottom? Carefully pinch those off.
remove first leaves
Step 3. Bury the tomato up to where it branches, stem and all. Around the root ball, you can use compost to give it a healthy start, but when you are burying the stem, a soil-less potting mix is best. (I prepare my potting mix by soaking it first, to make sure it has absorbed plenty of water.) This is how deep you should plant it.

Roots will grow out of the part of the stem that you burried, to become part of the ever-growing rootball.
Step 4. When the tomato grows up out of the pot again, remove it from the small cup, put it in the bottom of a medium sized cup, and bury it up to the branch again. (In these stages, you can make a doughnut of compost around the outer edges of the cup, and use potting mix for the rest.)

Repeat until you have a root ball as deep as extra large coffee cup. You can keep moving them up into larger planters, but by XL I run out of space to keep all my seedlings.
XL
Using coffee cups also makes it easy to give away tomatoes to friends and neighbours. Share the heirloom love.

When it’s finally safe to plant everything outdoors, I’ll show you how to use drought-proof planting to make your tomatoes (and other plants) survive between rains without the need for watering.

May 13, 2009 at 6:09 pm 4 comments

Shoplights, My Seed-Starting Sun-sub

I have a grow-op in my basement. It’s not what you think. I have more than 60 baby pepper plants, 100 baby tomatos, 3 hibiscus, 5 brugmansia trees, 2 abuliton, jacobinias, artichokes, 5 varieties of basil, a goji berry yearling, and many many other beautiful or edible plants that would be dead if I left them outside for the winter. I grew a pineapple in my basement. If I used high pressure sodium grow lights, the utility bills would kill me. Instead, I have 5 banks of fluorescent shop lights with wide spectrum bulbs on a 16 hour timer (2 of those banks are borrowed just for starting my veggie seeds). They keep my plants happy without using a lot of power.

I just tie my cell packs of sprouted seedlings directly to the lights to make sure they get enough ‘sun’. If I don’t remember to lower them as they grow, they bend around the bulbs in funny ways, but they never burn, and it’s enough light to keep them happy.

shoplight

shoplight=sunlight

I already started hardening off my seedlings 2 weeks ago, because the end of may is way too long to wait to plant them!

May 11, 2009 at 11:36 pm Leave a comment


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