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How early do you start your tomato seeds?

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How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  dk54321 on Fri 7 Feb 2014 - 9:26

In season, I can buy excellent tomatoes cheap-cheap-cheap, so the only reason to grow them myself is to get fresh tomatoes that haven't been trucked in from far away earlier in the year. At my old house there simply wasn't room to start seeds indoors, so I bought plants the first day they arrived locally, planted them, and covered them with two layers of plastic. When the weather got warmer, I removed the plastic during the day, but covered the plants at night until all danger of frost was past. One year, I tired buying one larger plant that already had blossoms, but it never recovered from transplant shock, and only produced two fruit, 1/4 the size of others of the same variety.

At my new house, I have a 12" x 8' shelf in front of a sunny window. If I transplant my tomatoes at the earliest possible date and protect them the same way as before, how early can I start my seeds?
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  jmsieglaff on Fri 7 Feb 2014 - 9:42

I'm just south of Madison and I usually start my tomatoes around March 30.  I probably have warmer days--but you probably have warmer nights assuming you are close to Lake Michigan, if you're inland enough our weather is probably very similar. 

I germinate in the kitchen, then have grown them in by a sunny patio door on very cool days and in a cold frame on warmer days--bringing them inside at night until cold frame temps would stay at least the the upper 40s overnight--usually late April.  Then in the cold frame until I plant my tomatoes out usually May 10-20 depending on the year.  This yeah I have a grow light so I'll let them live under the grow light until the cold frame is more suitable.

So if you're providing added protection I bet you could plant them out May 1ish so you'd probably want to start ~2 weeks ahead of me so maybe March 15?  You could always stagger a couple starts this year, knowing you'll have extra plants, but see what start day seems to work best.  Seeds are cheap--just a question of room and enough potting material.
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  camprn on Fri 7 Feb 2014 - 13:38

It really depends on when the soil is going to be 50°F and no frost. Have you tried one of the planting calculators, like Johnny's seeds or the old Farmer's almanac or myfolia sites?

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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  quiltbea on Fri 7 Feb 2014 - 17:16

I experimented last year and started some tomato seeds 12 weeks before my last frost date (May 15) and put them in the ground 4 weeks before that date (Apr 16) with plastic protecting them.  Got earlier tomatoes (before the Fourth) but had to remain diligent about warmth.  A cold nite, even with plastic, can set back your plants a bit so keep them warm and cover with towels and blankets when cold nites threaten.  Don't let frosty plastic touch your plants.  Good luck.
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  dk54321 on Fri 7 Feb 2014 - 19:06

Last frost here can be anywhere from May 1 to May 31. I've put plants in the ground as early as April 15, covering each plant with a 2 liter bottle with the bottom cut out, and a plastic sheet over the whole bed. 

I guess I should have asked, "What is the ideal age for transplanting tomatoes?" In other words, "How many days before transplanting should I put the seeds in my seed-starting mix?"
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  Goosegirl on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 5:56

The planting guides I have read usually recommend starting toms indoors about 8 weeks before transplanting outdoors. Just to give them a bit of a head start because of my short season, I usually start mine with my peppers, at 12 weeks before transplant.

GG

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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  GWN on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 7:44

What I do, and have for years... is ... I plant the tomato seeds WAYYYYYY to early. 
So I have to struggle for way too long with tomato seedlings trying to keep them warm in greenhouse, trying to find larger and larger pots to put them in, and then ultimately the "volunteers" in the garden from last year, take over in get ahead of my seedlings.
THIS year I am going away the last 2 weeks of Feb SO I CANNOT do this again.

My experience with getting the in the garden earlier.... such as mid April,   and covering with plastic, is that they ended up being dwarfed and took ages to catch up to the plants that I transplanted mid May.
I think my last frost is may 1st.

I had a book that I kept careful records of all of this, and I cannot for the life of me find the book.... and I fear that I left it outside whilst planting garlic last fall and the book is under 3 feet of snow now  lots o
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  sanderson on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 11:50

GWN,  oh, how sad about your notebook!! sobbing
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  Marc Iverson on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 12:20

What was that business that (camprn? plantoid?) linked to in which people plant summer crops out in the winter in one-gallon milk cartons? That seemed kind of intriguing to me. Especially since so many people on this forum have said their volunteers often catch up to or even surpass the tomatoes they've tenderly nurtured from seed.
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  Goosegirl on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 14:59

The planting out early and covering works if you keep constant attention on the weather conditions and temps to make sure you keep them warm and safe from temps that could stunt or kill them. If you are committed to season extension and have the determination and perseverance to follow it through, it could definitely make a difference for you.

Personally, I know I will not keep up on them properly, so I do not even attempt to set them out early. I just start mine inside a bit earlier than the guidelines dictate so that I can have some buffer in case of serious brain farts!

GG
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  Marc Iverson on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 16:06

The thing I meant, though, was done by leaving the seeds out, planted in the jugs, all winter long.
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  camprn on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 16:20

@Marc Iverson wrote:The thing I meant, though, was done by leaving the seeds out, planted in the jugs, all winter long.
winter sowing

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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  Marc Iverson on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 16:26

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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  dk54321 on Sat 8 Feb 2014 - 19:28

Fascinating! Has anyone here tried wintersowing tomatoes?
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  Goosegirl on Sun 9 Feb 2014 - 5:12

Love the link!  I have been thinking about winter sowing tomatoes because of my success with volunteer tom plants in my garden (saved my crop one year!).  I was going to attempt just plopping some saved tomatoes from my favorite varieties in place at the end of the season to see if they would come up the next season like the volunteers have - in the boxes, out of the boxes, in the walkways, in the flowerbeds, all around the compost pile.  This gives me more than hope that it could be successful!  Nature vs. nurture -  nature will generally win in my garden, with the quality (?) of my nurture  tongue .  That is generally why SFG has worked for me so well!

GG
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Re: How early do you start your tomato seeds?

Post  GWN on Sun 9 Feb 2014 - 8:52

Thanks for that link, very interesting.  Now I need to figure out which crop to try that on.
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