Monthly Archives: March 2019

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

It’s moving day for my tomato seedlings — their first moving day, actually.

Tomatoes ready for transplant

Tomatoes ready for transplant

My seedlings move a total of 3 times after they emerge, first into 3 inch pots then, into 5 inch pots and finally, into the garden.

This year I am growing four different varieties but two of my favorites – Atomic Grape and Fox Cherry  are indeterminate so they need to be transplanted before the other two varieties.

Tomato seedlings in cells

Tomato seedlings

Starting my seeds in the grow trays has advantages. I can get the soil warm, quickly and I can keep it consistently moist. Heat and moisture help speed up the process of sprouting for tomato seeds.  The one disadvantage is that indeterminate tomato seedlings outgrow the cells very rapidly.

At the age of 3 weeks and 3 days, these babies are ready for new digs. I start all my seeds in an organic soil specifically created for seed starting. It gives them an edge at the beginning of their lives and makes my life a bit easier too. But when it comes time to transplant, I add a little something something to make the soil lighter – coir.

Coir is coconut husk and it really adds value to the growing process. It improves soil structure by aerating it which is good for baby roots. And coir manages water – regulating water by holding it or dissipating it as needed.

I start by putting a spoon of my soil mix in the bottom of each 3 inch peat pot.

Soil and egg shells in peat pots

Soil & eggshells in peat pots

I also sprinkle just a bit of chopped egg shell on top of that for slow release feeding of the baby plants.

As I take each tomato seedling up out of its cell, I strip off the bottom two leaves and lay the plant at the bottom of the peat pot.


Then, I slowly pack soil around its stem until I fill the peat pot to the top. Sinking the seedling to the bottom of the pot lets the stem put out more roots and ground the tomato plant into the pot.

Tomato transplants in peat pots

Tomato transplants in peat pots

Once in pots, I water in each baby tomato to ensure there are no air pockets around the tiny roots of each plant. Then I move them onto trays and over to my plant stand.

They will look a bit battered for a day or two but recover quickly and start to grow into their new homes.

About a week after transplant, I will give them a feeding of very dilute fish emulsion and water. By the 3rd week of April, I will be transplanting all of them, again.

Tomatoes last transplant

Tomatoes’ last pot before the garden

This time, they go into 5 inch wide, 6 inch deep plastic pots (reusable) following the same process – small amount of soil and egg shells, strip off leaves, pack into the new container, water in, rest and a bit of fish emulsion in a week.

Currently I have 44 tomato plants humming along in my basement – that’s about 20 more than I have ever planted but, every year, I give the extra away. My sister-in-law, my niece and 2 gardening friends get 4 or 5 hand-raised, heirloom, organic, non GMO tomato plants to play with.

I love the process of growing tomatoes and I think I love sharing them almost as much!

FYI, I’m also hardening off the tatsoi, kale and lettuce I started in my basement in February.

Kale, spinach and tatsoi

Kale, spinach and tatsoi transitioning to the garden.

It will go in the ground just as April begins. Here’s hoping that the worst of the winter weather is behind us!


Gardening & Climate Change

Global warming is real.

But if you are a gardener, you already know that your world is getting warmer!  But most of my proof was anecdotal. And because the seasons are spread across 365 days, it’s sometimes hard to be sure about what you saw last year or the year before.

I do know that my garlic sprouted in February last year, almost 3 weeks ahead of schedule. I saved most of my crop but I only thought to check the beds because I saw forsythia blooming…in February.

This year, migrating birds started showing up at my feeders the first week of February. I’ve seen Downy Woodpecker and Red Wing Blackbird yearlings struggling to get food around the thousand plus grackles, starlings and cow birds that crowd the bird seed and suet feeders.

They arrived a full month ahead of schedule when temperatures were in the 50’s and 60’s. It looked like Spring was getting started; it seemed like the right time to fly North and start mating and nesting. Then the temperatures plummeted into single digits and the birds got caught by two snow storms and one ice storm.

Volatile weather is another symptom that the globe is heating up. Arctic streams of cold weather are pouring across the mid West and shoving into the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. Snow is falling in states and towns that have never seen snow before.

Again, some might say that this is all anecdotal – it doesn’t prove that our planet is getting warmer. Want hard evidence that the globe is heating up? Just visit the National Phenology Network – NPN – and watch spring weather creep up the East coast a full 20 days early!

While the rapid approach of Spring may seem like good news, it is really symptomatic of larger and much more serious issues, globally. And it changes any type of growing, including backyard gardening, into a roll of the dice.

Tomato babies under the grow lights.

Tomatoes ready for bigger pots.

That said, I’m still starting seedlings in the basement. This week it’s 48 tomato plants of 5 different varieties. Why so many? I count on some of the babies not making it to adulthood. And I always give tomato plants to 3 of my fellow gardeners (in North Carolina, Virginia and right here in Pennsylvania).

That should leave me with about 24 to 28 tomato plants for my backyard garden. And it ensures that I have plenty of tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and yes, sometimes dinner!

Hope your garden starts are doing well this very cold morning in PA.