Starting Tomatoes

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One of the most loved summer vegetables, starting tomatoes from seed can be intimidating.  With the right tools and supplies, it can be easy and fun.  

Tomatoes need to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before you want to plant them outside.  I like to start them in 2 1/2 inch pots so that they have plenty of room to grow without becoming root bound.  Follow the Basic Seed Starting instructions.  Make sure you don't plant the tomato seeds very deep because tomato seed germination is aided by light.  

After they sprout and grow you will need to prepare them to go out in the garden.  They don't need to be really big.  I like to plant them when they are about 12 inches tall.  The biggest shock for tomatoes is getting used to wind.  It dehydrates them very quickly.  To prepare them for the garden, you need to harden them off.  Set your seedlings outside in a protected location for an hour our two the first day.  Make sure they are well watered so that they don't dehydrate.  Over the course of a week, gradually get them used to longer and longer times outside.  If the weather is really windy, keep them inside.  By the end of a week they should be acclimated to being outside and can be planted.

Tomatoes do best planted very deep.  Every place the stem touches the ground it sends out roots.  So the best thing is to plant most of the stem.  Remove all the leaves except the top few and plant as much of the stem as possible.  You can dig a deep hole or you can dig a trough and lay the stem in sideways.

I grow all my tomatoes in 5 gallon grow bags.  They can be grown in containers or in the ground.  When I grow them in the ground I like to mulch them so I don't have to spend much time weeding.  6-12 inch deep straw, hay or grass clipping will suppress almost all weeds.  I like to lay down drip irrigation tape, cover with deep mulch, and then pull away little rings of mulch to plant the tomatoes.  The mulch is high enough around the tomato seedlings to protect them from the wind, and the mulch helps retain water and suppress weeds.