Thursday, February 23, 2012


I am probably boarding on Stalker territory about now, what with this past Sunday being my third visit to Love Apple Farms for a class, but I have no shame and just keep showing up there to take classes so that they'll let me hang out with the chickens and goats and take pictures in the garden.

You know these pictures. You know this garden.

This time, I went to find out what the damn secret was about growing tomatoes from seeds.

Like I said before, I totally blow at getting tomato seedlings successfully from house to garden. I can grow the seedlings in the house. I can grow seedlings from the nursery in the garden. But for whatever reason, I have never been able to grow tomato seedlings that *I* have grown from seed in the house into big strapping 50 lbs of fruit per plant plants in the garden.


This time though, I'm determined.

At the class, which I found to be mostly a review since it mainly focused on how to choose and sow tomato seeds, I did learn a few words of wisdom that I'm taking 100% to heart with regard to how to get these plants to go from indoors to outdoors without dying a tragic OH MY GOD WE'RE OUTSIDE NOW WHAT death.

1. Don't just grow them inside
I guess I should have known that it didn't make sense to be all, "Hey, little nubile plant that's never seen the outside light of day in its 6 week long life - SPEND THE WHOLE DAY outside and then let me know what you think." But you know that's exactly what I always did. Then I sat around wondering why they didn't live.


So, the deal here is that as soon as these guys germinate, they should start getting some outside time. Not a ton, but definitely some.
Oh good! You're alive. OUTSIDE WITH YOU.

2. Wind is your friend
So, the other way in which I've always gone horribly wrong with tomato seedlings was to let them grow all tall and spindly in a draft-free area of our dining room so that their weak stems weren't disturbed by gusts of wind from the dog's butt or whatever.

But that's the problem (not the dog's butt thing) - they need to get used to breezes when they're little so that their stems will HARDEN up and be sturdy when they're outside in the elements and nature and such.

Oh. Makes sense.

This means that when they're in the house, whether under grow lights or in the sunny window that I don't have, they should have a fan pointed at them (oscillating is probably best here, and don't be turning on one of those warehouse fans and blasting the crap out of them) so that they can pretend that they're 80s music video sluts AND so that their stems will be big and strong for the future outdoor winds they're sure to see.


3.  They need sunlight ON THEM. Like RIGHT ON THEM.
I've learned and finally embraced the fact that I don't really have a good sunny window in which to grow seedlings. But I've only just realized why my "sunny" windowsill has been such a failure. It's because the short moments of direct sunlight that would come through that window was still very high and didn't rest right on the leaves of these forming plants.

And seedlings need the light RIGHT ON THEM so that they don't grow all tall and spindly reaching for the light.

RIGHT ON THEM. (This was at the farm)

So, now I have a grow light RIGHT ON THEM. Like, almost on their leaves. And since florescent bulbs don't get hot, they don't burn or anything.

Anyway, I think that's what I learned from class. Which is lovely. And I had access to LAF's fabulous tomato seed bank which I used to seed a flat of 48 varieties of tomatoes which is now germinating happily on the bar in the dining room and spending its days outside because HELLO it was 75 degrees today.

They preferred the ski bench, but of course.

And, because I'm a garden dork, I pinned the whole seed bank so that I could choose the varieties I wanted to sow based on the pretty pictures and also so that later I could go back and grow EVERY.SINGLE.VARIETY.SOMEDAY.  Check it out at And, yes, I meant to type "tomatAbase" because it's like "datAbase", except for tomatoes.

You get it. You smart bastards.

One day outside and they're all LOOK AT ME. Sluts.


  1. Hey there! I picked up another trick if you dont' have a fan. Run your hands over the tops of the plants every time you check on them. This creates a fake wind. This makes the cells thicken to withstand outdoor weather. I think the suggested was 5 times a day. Would be neat to do trials! Best of luck with your seedlings. Tomaotes- lucky! All I can start are onions.

    1. Yep. Totally going to do that. THANK YOU! Sorry about your onions.

  2. Wait, did you say 48 VARIETIES? Not just seeds, but different varieties?

    Your Crazy has surpassed even mine. Congratulations, we have a new crazy champion.

    1. Actually no - I did doubles of most and a six pack of Early Girls. I'll have to count to be sure, but I think probably 20-25 varieties.

      Go Crazy :)

  3. I've done the oscillating fan thing for a few years and it has another benefit besides making them less wimpy. It also creates a less favorable environment for fungal stuff to grow, so theoretically less of a chance of damping off.

    Also, thank you so much for showing that picture of the plants all grown up into the lights. I forget to change the height on mine and they grow right up to the bulbs. And then I feel bad that I am harming them. Good to know that I can keep being negligent.

    Another Also, yay for that entire seed bank you pinned!

    Oops, just came back to my computer and realized that I never hit publish on this comment. Such is my life lately.

    1. GOOD CALL ON THE FUNGUS. Why didn't I just ask you guys how to grow seedlings properly in the first place? Though, that would mean no trips to the farm...RIGHT.

      Yes - let's get those lights ON TOP of the plants. Can't believe I didn't know that.

      And...cocktail time.

    2. I have NEVER heard of the fan thing. BRILLIANT.

  4. So, now do you have a garden plot large enough for these?

    1. I think you know that I do not.


      On a separate note - need any tomato seedlings this year and do you live in the Bay Area?

  5. My god- this is more than I've ever known about tomatoes. And I don't even like those bitches. My neighbors have grow lights but I'm pretty they aren't growing tomatoes.

    1. I am extremely impressed that you read that whole post even though you like tomatoes.

      You're a champion.

      And your neighbors are in no way growing tomatoes next door. Though my neighbors' neighbors are.

  6. Ack! I see your babies already sprouting and it hit me: I had not planted my peppers or maters yet! I remedied that today in our (rather unseasonably warm) 70 degree weather. Inside of course--maters would not be fond of a dip to 30 to try and germinate.

    Lets see if I learned my lesson this year and don't plant all the babies I start. (last year's end harvest, just the last batch mind you, was over 30 lbs. I overdid it a bit, and the maters ate all the pepper plants that were planted nearby)

    This year I am trying to warm the mater babies with a heating pad on low since our room is a bit...chilly...sometimes. As in 55 is not abnormal. I'm fixing that now.

    Thanks for the spread of info from the farm to us!

  7. Hi Finny, Long time lurker - first time poster. Why not give this method a try It involves using milk cartons to start seeds outdoors in a mini greenhouse setting. No hardening off. I've got a ton of seedlings doing really well in Zone 7. People rave about this method.

    Also, would you mind giving me an update on how your radical approach to getting rid of the crabgrass in your yard has held up. I spent several hours pulling it today in my yard, and remembered reading your post ages ago about your battle with it.

    Finally, I love how you have 5 million hobbies - very validating. I also beekeep, soapmake knit, run, garden, etc. etc. It's nice to meet other sufferers.
    Sandra in MD
    swhite828 at netscape dot net

  8. I'm doing it all wrong, just moving them down by the window, than up again so the cat doesn't eat them. Although he did step on an onion seedling today. DAMMIT!!


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