With an annual per capita consumption of more than 20 kg per year, tomatoes have been the undisputed leader in the ranking of the most popular vegetables for years. Nevertheless, the range of varieties in retail has always left a lot to be desired. Of course, own tomato planting enables the culinary foray into new breeds, traditional varieties and wild tomatoes, peppered with aromatic surprises. It doesn’t take sophisticated gardening knowledge to grow interesting species on the balcony, in the garden or in the greenhouse. Uncomplicated instructions for sowing and transplanting guide even inexperienced hobby gardeners through the starting phase, which is completely wrongly rated as highly demanding.
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You don’t need a lot of tools to put your own cultivation plan into action.
- Seed tray or peat press pots
- possibly an indoor greenhouse
- potting soil
- spray bottle
The seeds, which are between 2 and 3 mm long and 0.5 mm to 0.8 mm thick, are pre-treated to encourage germination. This measure makes sense because – depending on the variety – they have a velvety to shaggy hairy surface that needs to be softened.
- Soak tomato seeds in chamomile tea at room temperature for half a day.
- Optionally use diluted garlic juice in a ratio of 1:10.
Both liquids also prevent harmful mold growth, one of the greatest dangers when sowing and growing tomatoes.
The simplest and at the same time most cost-intensive provision of the optimal cultivation medium is commercially available seed soil. This, on the other hand, carries the risk of being contaminated by viruses, fungal spores or insect eggs. In addition, it cannot be assumed with absolute certainty that it is unfertilized. However, this aspect is a central prerequisite for successful sowing. The less nutrient-poor the substrate, the more diligently the seedlings strive to develop a strong root system in order to spread it out in search of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace elements. More promising natural products for sowing tomatoes are:
- Coconut fiber
- Perlite or Seramis
Since coconut fibers have an extreme water storage capacity, knowledgeable hobby gardeners mix in a little fine-grained sand. However, perlite scores with good permeability and no contamination by bacteria or pests because the material does not come into contact with the soil. In addition, the clay foam balls can be used repeatedly, so that the slightly higher purchase price is quickly amortized.
Sow indoor culture
After the preparatory work, the sowing will start at the end of February/beginning of March. The seed tray, seed pots or peat press pots are checked to see whether they have small openings in the bottom for water drainage. If this is not the case, a stronger sewing needle will help, because without 2 to 3 small holes, waterlogging could form in the container, which inevitably leads to the death of the seedlings.
- Fill the seed container 2/3 full with moist substrate, coconut hum or perlite.
- Spread the tomato seeds on top, one at a time, 3 cm apart.
- Then fill the remaining 1/3 of the container, up to a maximum of 0.5 cm high.
- Finally, the growing medium is wetted with water from the spray bottle.
Anyone who has decided to use peat press pots sows a single seed in each pot. The seedlings of 2 or 3 seeds would – if they all sprout – entangle their delicate roots in such a way that they can hardly be untangled later without injury.
care until germination
Ideally, a greenhouse is available for the containers with the seeds. Simple models made of plastic are already available for less than 10 euros, have a transparent lid and an insert of 24 to 36 pots that can be used again and again. Somewhat more luxurious are heatable mini greenhouses, which guarantee constant heat thanks to a heating mat and are available for less than 30 euros.
- Place the containers with the seeds in the bright, warm window seat.
- The ideal germination temperature is between 18° and 24° Celsius.
- Keep the growing medium constantly moist for the next 10 to 14 days.
- Air the cover daily for about 10 minutes to prevent mold.
It is important to note that the seed never dries out. The seedlings never recover from such drought stress, even if it is only for a short time.
After an average of 10 days, two cotyledons appear, signaling that sowing is going according to plan. Only when at least 2 real tomato leaves have formed is it time to prick. Incidentally, even the inexperienced layman can tell the difference between cotyledons and ‘real leaves’ right away.
- Fill 9 cm pots with commercially available potting or vegetable soil and moisten.
- Carefully lift the roots out of the ground with the pricking stick.
- Shorten roots that are too long to 2 cm with disinfected scissors.
- Insert the plants up to the base of the leaves (turtleneck) and press down on the soil.
- Pre-drill small holes with the pricking stick to protect the roots.
- Afterwards, keep the tomatoes and substrate moist, but do not soak them.
Experienced hobby gardeners who do not want to rely on the quality of purchased potting soil mix the potting soil themselves. A mixture of garden soil (10-30%), compost (20-40%), leaf soil (30-40%) and hot soil has proven itself Sand (5-10%).
Avoid full sun for the next 2 to 3 days as the stressed tomato plants could wilt. The young plants are then allowed to go to the window again, but if possible not facing south, because it gets too hot there, especially during midday.
Plant lamps against spoilage
Tomatoes are extremely light-hungry plants. If there is a lack of sufficient light during sowing and transplanting, the plants tend to wilt in the early stages of germination. This means they will stretch out their shoots toward the light while becoming glassy, soft, and progressively weaker. Hobby gardeners are increasingly confronted with this problem during the dark months of February and March if they sow indoors. In order to cultivate compact growing tomato plants, the use of plant lamps is therefore recommended.
- Compact fluorescent lamps with blue-white light colors specifically prevent yellowing.
- Inexpensive fluorescent tubes can be placed close to the seed.
- Modern LED plant lamps produce selective light with low energy consumption.
In specialist shops, in addition to universal plant lamps, there are special lamps available that differentiate between ‘growth’ (blue-white) and ‘flowering’ (red-yellow).
Anyone who has no way of sowing and growing tomatoes on the windowsill is by no means forced to do without their own cultivation. From mid-May or early June there is a suitable climate, even in the local latitudes, for sowing tomato seeds outdoors. Although this method is more risky than in the protected environment of the room or conservatory, the plants thrive all the faster in the fresh air. Depending on the variety selected, harvesting is possible as early as mid/end of July.
- Clean the bed of weeds and roots in a sheltered place in front of a south wall.
- Work well-rotted compost or leaf soil into the bed.
- Draw a trough with the spade and insert seeds or seed tape into it.
- Then cover the seed with 5 mm of sieved substrate and water.
It is of decisive advantage if the sowing in the bed is protected by a tomato house made of corrugated plastic sheets or a stable foil tunnel. With a little manual skill, the superstructure can be constructed in no time without having to dig deep into your pocket.
Experienced home gardeners who have access to manure use this material as a ‘natural heater’. To do this, dig out the bed provided for growing the tomatoes about 30 cm deep, put in a thick layer of manure and cover it with soil before adding garden compost or leaf soil.
Pricking out in the open
If no seed tape was used to sow tomatoes, it may be necessary to separate the seedlings from a growth height of 10 cm to 15 cm. Ideally, the strongest plants remain in the bed at a distance of 75 cm x 75 cm. If they are too close together, there is an increased risk of brown rot or fungal diseases. A special pricking stick is now superfluous, as you can simply pull the seedlings out of the ground by hand and dispose of them in the compost.
Hobby gardeners who grow tomatoes embark on an expedition through the almost endless spectrum of diverse varieties. Contrary to the prejudice that the aromatic paradise apples are difficult to cultivate, even an inexperienced hand can grow them. With the help of well-founded instructions for sowing and pricking out, the first young plants will thrive within a few weeks. Crucial premises for a successful cultivation are nutrient-poor seed soil, well-dosed water supply and a sufficient amount of light. Then the seedlings are pricked out for the first time after only 3 weeks and permanently gain strength and size.