Giving Tomatoes Room to Grow

About a month ago I planted tomatoes in seed-starting trays. This was new for us because in the past we would always buy transplants from a local nursery. Now that our big, giant garden plan calls for something like 80 tomato plants, we decided it would be much more cost-effective to start them from seed. We chose four varieties from Johnny's: bush variety romas Monica and Bellstar, and vining heirlooms Rose and Moskvich. After four weeks of growth indoors, they are getting big:

By the way, that's just one tray. I have another half a tray with tomatoes that aren't in the photo.

Anyway, they are outgrowing their space, and they still have at least 10 days to go until our frost-free date — maybe more, since I need to harden them off, and we aren't about to take any chances with our favorite vegetable (fruit, if you insist) of all. So it is time to transplant them not outdoors, but into bigger pots.

This is where that collection of plastic pots from all the nurseries I've been to over the last year comes in handy — no need to buy new containers! I gathered my materials and set up shop on a dropcloth in the dining room:

Normally I wouldn't do this indoors, but it was cold and rainy, and all of the dining room furniture is currently in the living room as we have a new porch door installed, so it was a good opportunity to spread out inside and still not make too big of a mess. We bought some cheap cookie sheets to hold all the bigger pots (those will contain water and make it easier to carry around the plants when we are doing the many hardening trips back and forth, indoors and out). We also got a big bag of organic potting mix, and you see here just a very few selections from my collection of plastic pots.

Anyway, this is not a difficult job, but it is a tedious one. I had good helpers, though, so we were able to assembly-line this a bit. I worked to pop the seedlings out of their small cells in the seed tray and placed them (keeping as much soil as possible around the roots) into the larger pots. Most of these are 4-5 inch pots, and I put two or three seedlings in each, which saves us space but still gives the plants lots more room than they had before. 

I then passed the pots off to Tiegan, who was really enjoying scooping soil into the pots and tamping it into place (gently — she's good!) around the stems. I didn't bother doing this for the broccoli and cabbage, but for tomatoes it really makes sense — you plant the seedlings deeper into the soil than they had been before to encourage all the little root hairs along the gangly stems to develop a deeper root system. This is worthwhile to lead to stronger plants, and it will keep them from flopping over as well. 

Planting them deeper meant an easier time of filling in the dirt, because Tiegan didn't have to worry about making a "base" of soil — the plants for the most part went right into the pot, and that was the right height to get their stems covered up to the first leaves. Turns out that this was a great job for a nine-year old, who was really loving the feel of the soft, new soil. When she got tired after doing about 40 plants, Kirk took over for her the rest of the way.

A quick watering and arranging on the cookie sheets, and these are back in the window with much more room to grow:

This is about 2/3 of the task. I still have another 36 cells of Monica romas to get through, so I hope my helpers come back! Once this is done, I'll give them time to adjust to their new pots and then start hardening them off to be ready for planting sometime between May 15 and 20, depending on the weather. Tiegan said that she could smell the tomatoes while she was potting them (they are pretty distinctively scented when you brush the leaves), and we are all getting ready to taste them as well!


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