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tomato: transplant vs. seed  RSS feed

 
William Schlegel
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Location: Montana
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I started transplanting tomatoes the last day of April the first 60 or so plants were hit by a frost and I lost about 40 of them. So being a bit hard headed I out planted the rest 440+ plants. On May 15th I was hit by a 30 degree frost that top killed all but about 6 (initially about 16 looked good but this number kept going down. Now over a week later over 40 varieties are resprouting. Direct seeded I have over twenty varieties growing. Resprouts are growing faster so far but many of the seedlings survived the frost. Tomato plants are tougher than we commonly think.
 
Andrew Barney
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Location: Northern Colorado
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I was focusing all my early tomato start on the wild germplasm that i really didn't have time to start the domestic varieties i wanted to plant. So in a rush a few weeks ago i mixed them all proto-landrace / grex style and direct seeded three short rows. I've never direct seeded tomatoes before so that is an experiment in and of itself. I will be watching for whatever seems to grow best. Not sure if i will need to thin them out or not yet, but if i do i will try to weed out the slower growing ones.

The tomato seedlings are starting to appear now. It's been rather cool and wet for spring this year, so those best suited to germinate in those conditions might get a genetic head start over any that aren't. Since i'm interested in those that do well in my climate that's perfectly fine.
 
William Schlegel
pollinator
Posts: 164
Location: Montana
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forest garden trees
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I've been giving some thought to this transplant vs seed question this year in conjunction with my direct seeding experiment and working in a greenhouse that sells organic tomato starts.

Just with the variety Sweet Cherriette alone I have quite a few observations. I saw it in the Adaptive Seeds Catalogue and it was a must have for a direct seeding experiment. A 35 days to maturity from transplant current tomato bred by Tim Peters. I was like "wow!" And ordered the large size seed packet.

So I took the seed and put in a 4 foot long strip in the March seeded experiment. I also started starts inside one of which I planted outside on the last day of April and the rest in Early May. The may 15th frost I encountered equalized the heights on these for the most part.

Of the March planted direct seeded seedlings one is about to flower it's first blossom- it may be the first direct seeded seedling to do so.

However the transplanted and frosted seedlings all resprouted. Some of these are doing great and are now flowering profusely.

Then I had the packet in my pocket at work and since the seed was organically grown I offered a bit to my boss. So I ended up seeding a community flat with ~50 seeds. When it came time to transplant them my boss only wanted 6 so I ended up taking 41 seedlings home.

We were fertilizing at work with a couple of high P fertilizers and at home I was using Alaska 5-1-1 and natures choice organic miracle grow 10-3-6. We ran into some environmental problems at work with the weather and some of our tomatoes got some yellowing. Also in my greenhouse at home it got really hot. The fan on the greenhouse kept tripping the reset on a ground fault interrupted outlet and the tomatoes left in there just loved the heat!

Anyway the 6 plants I left at work stayed tiny. Those I took home and transplanted into slightly larger pots grew better. However I transplanted two into gallon pots and one of these two hit the jackpot of perfect tomato growing conditions. It got to about a foot high and a foot wide while it's former flat mates stayed much smaller. I reckon if I had the skill and time the entire flat could have done the same. I also transplanted it outside into it's final home a five gallon pot and it didn't seem to suffer.

So with this one variety I've seen a range of errors and potentials with transplanting vs. Direct seeding. I've also learned especially with small seeded varieties and species that it takes a lot more seed to direct seed then to transplant. Germination rate is well over 90% for starting indoors with sweet Cherriette this year but way less in the several patches I direct seeded.

Transplants with this variety are also currently winning the race for size and early productivity vs direct seeded individuals. Despite having been severely frost damaged!

However It's also starting to look like a variety that will indeed work for direct seeding without season extension in my climate though.

I would also say in general that tough cold tolerant short season varieties are performing better than expected after being forced to resprout from the base after frost. When direct seeding having an appropriately tough variety may indeed matter!
 
Deb Rebel
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When doing indoor to outdoor starts, I expect to repot four times. One from the starter flat (open and spaced spots, not individual things like peat coins. I hate compressed peat coins or peat pots, I have my reasons) to a roughly 4x4" pot, to trade quart and to trade gallon. Fourth is either into ground or into the RGGS 5 gallon pots. This gives me good healthy starts and six to ten weeks grow time in case I have to hold them. Line the trade quart and trade gallon with soy ink based newspaper (no color ink) and make the pots cutaway (duct tape them back shut) and the roots won't ruffle when you transplant. Newspaper disappears in the soil. I can show you pictures of starter plugs, peat coins, and peat pots I've taken out of the ground a year later and they look pretty new... and in my opinion throttled the plant back. If you have delicate roots (peppers, most of the curcurbitae, etc) then do the newspaper lining and breakaway/cutaway pots. In three months when the plants have aged out (most tomato plants are venerably ancient at 120 days) you won't see much difference between direct seed and pre started, but. If I want an early start to fruit production I will start the plants first. Use a fan to gently blow across your starts/seedlings and toughen them up (it makes them sturdier) and during up pot you can deal with any legging by burying them deeper. If I do a combination for tomatoes, of the start indoors and seed direct, I will easily extend season with determinates as the seeded ones will start to produce later, the period of production will overlap with the end of the starts.
 
William Schlegel
pollinator
Posts: 164
Location: Montana
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forest garden trees
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Deb Rebel wrote:In three months when the plants have aged out (most tomato plants are venerably ancient at 120 days) you won't see much difference between direct seed and pre started, but. If I want an early start to fruit production I will start the plants first. Use a fan to gently blow across your starts/seedlings and toughen them up (it makes them sturdier) and during up pot you can deal with any legging by burying them deeper. If I do a combination for tomatoes, of the start indoors and seed direct, I will easily extend season with determinates as the seeded ones will start to produce later, the period of production will overlap with the end of the starts.


I have a single plant of Bison I started in December. It is a Determinate and it's venerably ancient as you say. It's trying to bloom and set but I suspect it may be done growing even after resprouting. I was hoping to do some winter breeding like Joseph does but except for the Bison I think the rest of the 22 plants I started in December are dead now. Most died in pots when I didn't get them transplanted fast enough over the winter.

I also am noticing what I think is a juvenile phase in Tomato seedlings. This phase is nicely obvious in sweet Cherriette and extra obvious with my extra large seedling. It grew a foot talk and a foot wide in the juvenile phase. It's early leaves could be any variety. Now it's getting ready to bloom and the new growth is starting to show it's solanum pimpinillifolium ancestry. It was also extra obvious after my May 15th frost. The resprouts were no longer in the juvenile phase but looked more like Solanum pimpinillifolium and started blooming right away.

At work the variety sweetie did something like this. We had hoped to use some of them in hanging baskets. The young starts had far to rigid of stems. Then months later too floppy to stand up and look good for the customers without staking.

At work my boss decided to start tomato plants early because customers like to buy them extra large. However this far exceeds the 6 to 8 weeks so often reccomended on tomato seed packets. The. We had to hold the plants a long time because customers were fickle in a long cold spring. Bottom line? At 6 to 8 weeks fabulous seedlings. Now- some nutrient deficiencies and problems with plants that need staking arose. We had to throw out seedlings of some varieties for yellowing  and lab testing said it was "environmental" not a disease. Transplanting helps but getting things in the ground is best.

Wow does it make a big difference though how you handle a seedling!  Taking advantage of the fast growing juvenile phase to get them big, transplanting in a timely manner, right fertilizer at the right time, and boom- giant seedling vs tiny.
 
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