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Transplant tomato seedlings, issues with early start

Posts: 1813
Location: Zone 6b
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William Schlegel wrote:

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.

One year I received seeds from a 7.18 pound tomato, size of your head and ugly as sin, but. Had a lot of Delicious in it's ancestry and it had a pedigree of several generations of blooms bagged and hand pollination. I received them 29 December and started them immediately for propagation. I air layered growing stems and cloche propagated suckers and made about seventy offspring off those two plants. It is a long story about keeping them indoors, planting up into 7 gallon trade, and keeping them alive. By the time 'growing season' arrived the parents were past trying to bloom... with how I had gone after them with the intent of making more plants they had not really tried to bloom or set. Venerably ancient woody gnarly things they were. I planted them out anyways and they were almost past even trying to make suckers. They composted nicely.

The offspring, everything was best for starts in the 30-90 day range, 30-60 were exceptionally vigorous. I gave/shipped/sold a number of them, and the shipping didn't go well. Some did get fruit from them. The six I put in, gave me acceptable for table fruit but nothing wanted to produce the 'megabloom' which was the key to the huge fruits. I sucker propagated a few of those around 60 days, propagated THOSE around 60 days, etc, and kept the line going through the winter just to do so for the experience. Very possible. The hardest was tossing the parental plants when they turned into the woody fossils.  IF you get a superior producer it is possible to keep it going through sucker propagation but it is a lot of work. Stick to breeding and selecting for true traits and seed start.

As you say, William, if you are dedicated to doing the uppotting as needed you can bring a very nice indoor start to harden off and plant out. Early starting helps bring your fruiting time earlier in the growing season, and though I've done both, direct seed I consider a late season crop. If you do both, you can extend the heaviest fruiting period for indeterminants and definitely time out your determinants. One year I was handing out my extra starts, I had Delicious in trade gallons and should have been in trade 3's or 5's, leggy and should have been in ground to work on setting already. End of May, and someone said can they get tomatoes in June? No blooms showing yet... I said 'from the store'. I had some hand groomed and would see ripe ones  before the 4th of July but that takes dedication.

Back to topic. I think some of the landrace are better suited for direct seed, especially if you have done a few generations of them in your conditions to further adapt them to local conditions. Tomatoes are one that I consider best as an early start... you know whether or not it germed before you plant out, and can plan accordingly. This year, some flats (around 90-120 a flat) zeroed out. As in they didn't even sprout, or if they did, they otherwise didn't thrive with good care. I would have been very upset to have seeded several of these and have to wait to find out the seed didn't germ... so I'd have to replant. Have a few duds in a row, you will get no crop. If you do have good vigorous seed, the early start will give you a head start on when you can expect crop.

Now I planted a mix of cherry and currant (going towards wild) on a hugel bed I started, and I had one year of volunteers. Which didn't give me much, and this year with that freakish blizzard we had very late, nothing. In this case, hugels, direct seed is the only way to go. The plants have to find their own way and integrate into what's there in the mound. I have replanted it with some more seed of 2-4 oz and some cherry, to see if it will recolonize or not. (also going to move this off to a new topic)
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