Now, to the reason I'm posting:
I'm listening to episode 87 about replacing irrigation with permaculture. I just got to the part where Paul is talking about why you should not transplant. I've decided that I'm going to experiment with my tomatoes this year. My problem is I don't really know when to plant. I usually start my seeds indoors around mid January and then plant them out around Mother's Day here outside Chicago. I'll do some of my tomatoes like this but I'll direct sow some as well and see what happens, but when to plant the seeds out?
tel jetson wrote:I've seen plenty of tomatoes sprout where the previous year's tomatoes fell and rotted. so the seeds, at least, are relatively impervious to winter. suggests to me that planting time isn't particularly touchy and they'll come up when they're ready.
Ah, good point. I do remember seeing some volunteer tomatoes this past summer where I had planted last year.
During my greenhousing time I came up with an alternative method for annuals or perennials treated as annuals. I found my best results were to sprout tomatoes in the greenhouse in containers which were narrow and deeper than the tomato roots would grow before transplanting and let them grow to 2 true leaves (do not include the cotyledons or seed leaves in the count). Grow them very cool after the cotyledons emerge so they do not become leggy. Use cool or warm temperature to hold back or speed up their growth as needed depending on frosty nights having passed. Transplant them very young into the garden. Do not allow to get too many roots prior to transplanting. The key is young and already hardened off to cool temperatures. I’d plant them up to the cotyledons in depth. They required very small transplant holes and there was so little foliage and so few roots they would easily take off as if they were sown in place. This allowed for predictable placement and stand and some control over frosty nights.
I trialed seedlings planted out in this manner and seedlings then transplanted into larger containers for further growth in the greenhouse These were planted later side by side in the garden with the small seedlings which had been transplanted earlier. Hands down the small seedlings were by far the more vigorous plants. Somehow they know when another tomato is near in the greenhouse and they adjust their growth to accommodate the nearness. Those small seedlings in the garden which had no tomatoes near immediately began a larger spread of both roots and leaves. I was stunned at the difference.
You mentioned that you started seeding your transplants in Mid-January and you transplant sometime in May, in the Chicago area. I would think it is far too early and also too long to be growing the transplants out. If they're in pots too long there's a chance of them getting root-bound, running out of nutrients, and/or starting to flower and fruit much too early. If you're going to transplant, I would suggest starting plants a bit later.
Joe, I start them that early, but I pot up a couple times before they end up in the ground. Each time I bury the plant deeper to develop more roots. By the time I put them in the garden, I have 2-3 feet of stem I can bury. I usually try to keep them cool with plenty of sun in a south facing window to keep them from getting too leggy.
Edit: I like the idea of direct sowing because it's less work. If I continue with my current methods, I don't see how I can sustain it if I increase my production. I only have so many south facing windows in the house and my wife would not be thrilled with me getting grow lights in the basement. Not to mention that I would have to pay to run those lights all winter.
Since I was in a greenhouse setting my seeds were planted into plug trays which had 392 square cells (.70W X .70L X 1.15D). Since the roots wanted to take off and grow deep immediately I cheated a little on those plants which I wanted to plant as young seedlings into the garden. I’d place the plug tray on top of a flat which was filled with soil rather than on a bench. This allowed the roots to develop deeper if needed. I’d then water the bottom flat very well as I needed to transplant which would allow me to pull the roots out of the lower soil.
If I were going to advise a home gardener I’d suggest cutting lengths of a plastic or glass tube and standing up in a container of some sort to keep from falling over. A piece of 1/2" or 3/4” plastic pipe 2”-2 1/2" long would work. Make sure water is able to drain out the bottom. These pipes could be placed several in a regular cell pack which plants are purchased in at the garden center. The narrow path directs any roots trying to grow sideways down until transplanting time. There may be commercially available options. Tree seedling cells were deeper but they were too wide for what I was trying to achieve.
If you’d like to try another interesting experiment transplant a grandiflora or multiflora petunia seedling at that same young age into its final growing spot. I have had a single petunia branch sideways to reach the edges of a 10” bowl before it made its first blossom. Somehow they just know when they are in crowded cell packs and it affects the rest of their existence.