Starting Your Tomato Seeds in Peat Pots
If you want to get a jump on the tomato growing season, starting your tomato seeds in peat pots is the best way to go. There are several advantages to this. First, you have an unlimited selection of varieties, whereas, you are limited to what plants the garden center has to offer. Second, you get to control every aspect of your tomato plant's growth, from planting, watering, feeding, heat and light. Finally, by starting your tomato seeds in peat pots, you don't have to repot one or two times into larger pots and then transplant into the garden. You can plant your peat pot directly in the garden.
About six to eight weeks before the last frost of the spring, get your peat pots ready. Use pots that are three or four inches deep. Use a soil-less starting mix that has no soil borne diseases, weed seeds or even nutrients in them. You will also need a water bottle with a sprayer, liquid fertilizer, a heat source and a light source.
Moisten the starting mix in the bag, this stuff is light and airy and will fly around everywhere. Fill your peat pots to a quarter to a half inch from the top of the pot. Place two or three tomato seeds a half an inch apart in the middle of each pot and cover with a quarter inch of the starting mix. Gently firm the mix making sure there is good contact between the seed and the mix. Use the spray bottle to mist the seeds, do not disturb the seeds with a blast of water.
You can cover your pots with plastic wrap to keep the moisture consistent during germination, just keep an eye on them to ensure they don't dry out. Place the pots on top of a refrigerator, a water heater or a heating pad to keep the heat at around seventy to eighty degrees F until they germinate.
In around six to eight days, stems and seed leaves should emerge through the surface, when this happens, remove the plastic wrap and move them to a light source. Some options are a sunny window sill, a sunny room or a fluorescent lamp. Don't get alarmed when the first leaves (seed leaves) turn brown, shrivel up and drop off, that's what seed leaves do. The next set of leaves to appear are the plant's true leaves. When the true leaves appear it is time to start a weekly feeding with liquid fertilizer. Just dilute the liquid fertilizer to half its recommended strength and use it once a week.
Keep your new seedlings under light. With a fluorescent light try to keep the light a couple of inches above the plants, and adjust the light as they grow. You can even leave the lights on all the time, but at least fourteen to sixteen hours a day.
When your seedlings get about two inches tall, pick out the healthiest plant and snip the others off at the surface, do not pull them out of the pot, you could disturb the roots of the remaining plant. Keep the soil moist, the plants fed once a week and keep them under light.
About one or two weeks before you transplant your seedlings into the garden, start taking them outside to a shady area for increasing amounts of time each day. This will help them adjust to the conditions outside, a process known as hardening off.
When the soil temperature reaches fifty-five to sixty degrees F and the day and night temperatures stay above fifty degrees F, it is time to plant them in the garden.
Just dig your hole and place the entire peat pot into the ground deep enough to cover the pot completely. The pot will decompose in the soil and roots can penetrate it like it was not even there.