Starting tomatoes from seed
April 15, 2014
Tomatoes are everyone's favorite veggie. Starting plants from seeds allows a great selection of hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. Heirloom varieties are older and often have better flavor and quite interesting colors. However, heirlooms may not be as hardy, so look for disease resistance on seed packets. Hybrids can yield more and have enhanced disease resistance, which is indicated by the letters V (verticillium wilt), F (fusarium wilt), T (tobacco mosaic virus) and N (root knot nematodes).
Consider whether you want a determinate or indeterminate tomato. Determinate are plants that are more compact. They tend to mature early with complete harvest occurring in a short time. It's easier to set up frost protection on smaller plants. Indeterminate tomatoes are larger plants (possibly 10 to 12 feet tall and wide) that produce numerous suckers and yield over a long period.
Since Nevada has a short season, when selecting seeds look for the shortest "days to maturity" on the seed packet, ideally under 75 days. There are tomato varieties that can ripen in as little as 56 days. In cooler temperatures however, the days to maturity can increase 10 to 15 days from what the packet says.
The recommended practice is to start seeds six to 10 weeks prior to planting (last average frost date is May 15) in a sterilized soilless planting mix, available at all nurseries. Pots and flats should be washed in nine parts water to one part bleach and rinsed well. Seedlings will emerge quickly if kept between 75 and 85 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. Seedlings need the bright light of a sunny window, but will often do better with cool-white fluorescent or gro-lights on for 16 hours per day. Keep the soil moist, not saturated. You can cover the soil initially on seeding with clear plastic to hold in heat and moisture, raising the plastic as seeds grow. Remove the film when the seedlings reach four to six inches tall.
Transplant the seedlings to slightly larger containers once or twice before planting them outside. Get them ready for outdoors by putting them in a protected outdoor location out of full sun and wind. Bring them back in if temperatures are projected below 50 degrees.
The free class Tomato Basics (and not so Basics) will be presented 6-8 p.m. Thursday at 2621 Northgate, Suite 12 in Carson City. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 887-2252 to sign up.
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JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at email@example.com or 887-2252.