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How I Grow Tomatoes Indoors

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First off let me say " That I am not advertizing for Jiffy-7 Peat Pellets " . I have been using them for over 12 years now and they work so well for me that I want others in the Garden Geeks to try them. I have only used them for growing Veggie seeds, but I dont know why they wouldnt work for many other plant seeds also. They say the pellets contain Sphagnum peat moss, lime, and a special fertilizer. I buy them on the internet for about 10 cents a piece. In the Northern states most of the stores do not handle them in the winter time. I used to buy them at Walmart, KMart, Target, etc.... but only in the spring time. Jiffy-7 Peat Pellets come in a couple of sizes ( I use the 1 1/2 inch for my seeds.) The pellets are compressed and dried to about 1/2 inch in height when you buy them. All you do is add water to the pellet and it raises up to about 1 1/2 inches high. I put about a 1/4 cup of luke warm water into a cup with the Jiffy-7 pellet. That seems to be about the right amount to expand the pellet to 1 1/2 inch height. If you have water left over after the expansion, just pour it out.. Since I am planting only in containers, I only have room to use 12 pellets, so I use 12 cups to expand the pellets in, but if you are a big tomato grower in a garden, I would take a long pan or cookie sheet, with at least 3/4 inch sides and put the pellets in the pan and put 1/4 cup of luke warm water for each pellet you have in the pan. This should be about the right amount of water to expand the whole bunch of pellets. Now all you have to do is put them into a cup container. (you Southern folks can plant them directly into your garden, if it is warm enough ) I used Styro Foam cups one year ( they worked ok, but i had to buy them. Why do that when you have something else to use )

Once you get the pellet expanded, put it into a container cup of some sort. I cut off the bottom of a Plastic soda drink cup that I get from the Gas Station when I buy my diet Pop. It's the perfect size for growing my seedling and I dont have to transplant into another bigger container before I plant them. I then drill 3 holes in the bottom of the plastic cup to let any moisture drain out from over watering. You want the seedling damp, but not wet. I then put the expanded pellet into the center of the cup and put some potting soil around the edges up to the pellet level, and put it into my shallow metal pan that holds my cups with pellets.

Now, I am ready to plant my seeds. I want to put my seeds about 1/8 inch below the surface of the Jiffy-7 peat pellet. The peat pellets come wraped in a real fine netting that keeps the soil contained. You need to open the top of the netting to plant the seeds. I have a tiny scissors that I cut out the netting on top of the pellet. They say you can just pull up the netting, plant the seeds, then cover back over with the netting, but that seems to hinders my seedlings when sprouting, so I dont do that.

I take a pencil eraser head and push the seed down about 1/8 inch into the top of the pellet, and then cover it up with soil. I put three seeds into every pellet, as sometimes they dont all sprout. When the seedlings get about 4 or 5 inches tall, I take my small scissors, and cut off at soil height, anything over two plants. I want to grow only 2 plants in each pellet. ( this is hard to do sometime, but you must do it )

Now, there is two main things a tomato seedling needs to grow tall and healthy. Number one is LIGHT. If you dont have enough light, your tomato seedling will grow tall, spindly, weak, and will tip over and die.
You need to build or buy, some kind of fixture to give your seedlings enough light to grow healthy. If you are in zone 4 or 5, we do not have enough sunlight & warmth, in April, to grow any tender tomato plant seedlings outside, so we have to grow them indoors and plant them outside when all danger of frost is over. ( thats June 1 st in my area ) You need the light about 3 to 4 inches above the seedlings as they grow, so you need some way to lower & raise the light as they grow up.

The best & cheapest light I have found for growing tomato seeds is Fluorescent Light. I have built a inexpensive fixture to give light to my plants. ( A simple contraption for sure ) But as most of you know, I use things that i have laying around to build objects. I have such a small house and this fits in my bedroom. It is about 3 foot tall, 2 foot wide, and 3 foot long, and very simple. You just have to use your imagination to build something. The hanging lights in the picture are made from some old shop lights I had in the garage and I screwed the 26 Watt Fluorescent bulbs into them. They say a 26 Watt Energy Efficent Fluorescent bulb is equal to a 100 Watt regular bulb, but they dont get nearly as hot. I have used grow light bulbs before, but these screw in fluorescent bulbs work much better and dont cost so much to operate.

When I had a big house and was planting lots of tomatoes in my garden, I had an old Fluorescent 4 foot long Light Fixture with two long fluorescent blubs in it.. I threw a rope over some beams in the basement, and tied the Light fixture to the rope. Then i raised the rope up to bring the light fixture to the proper height above the plants. ( thats 3 to 4 inches above the plant ) You can buy green house fixtures with lights, and the initial cost is fairly high, but if you use them year after year, so you dont have that high cost every year.

The second thing a tomato seedling needs is Warmth ( Heat ) It needs to have a temperture between 65 and 75 degrees, to grow strong & healthly. I have a small heating pad that I put under the metal pan with my seed cups. I turn it on low and my seeds sprout in about two or three days. I leave the heating pad on until the seedlings get about 5 or 6 inches tall, and then i let them fend for themselves. I try to keep the temperture in my house at 68 degrees all winter long, so they get plenty of heat while growing up.

The next thing a tomato seedling needs is water. You dont want them wet, but damp is OK. When watering seedlings, make sure you dont pour water into the pellet at a fast rate, as you will wash out the roots of the plant. . I use a old discarded Insulin syringe to water my seedlings when they start to get dry. . A eye dropper would work great also. When the Jiffy-7 pellet netting starts to turn brown and drying out, you need to water the seedling.

I try to start my seeds about the second week in April. After about 6 to 8 weeks, the seedlings are ready to plant outside. My plants are normally about 14 to 15 inches high at this time, and very stout & leafy. I take my tomato plant thats in the cup & wet it really well, then I cut the plastic cup ( with a scissors) about 4 or 5 times down the side of the cup. This way the soil & Plant come out of the cup real easy and you dont have any root damage or transplant shock. Now you dig a hole in your garden or container, the same size as your plant from the cup, and deep enough so that the top soil will be about 1 inch above the Jiffy-7 pellet that contains your tomato plant.  Make sure the first leaves are pinched off before planting the seedling.

When planting my tomato plants into my containers, I always put a tablespoon of epsom salt, about 1 inch under the planting hole. Just dig a little hole ( in the bottom of your planting hole), and put the Epsom salt in. Then cover it up with soil before planting the tomato plant into the hole. A local gardner advised me that this helps prevent any Blossum End Rot on your tomatoes. ( Works for me ) I then mix up a weak liquid fertlizer solution ( i use Miracle Grow) and pour 1 cup into the hole before I put my tomato Plant in.

Now, Tomatoes need lots of water during the summer time. When I had my garden, I dug some trenches along my tomato plants and I ran water in those trenches twice a day, It is a lot better to water your tomatoes from the bottom then to spray them with water from a hose. Spraying tomato plants gets the leaves wet and can lead to disease and virus of your plants. Its better to lay your hose down and let it soak the plant and dont spray the leaves.

I get beautiful and large tomatoes from my containers. I am sure you will too. If you have any questions, just PM me and I will be glad to answer any questions if i can.

(All photos and information by:) Deano in Sturgis Land of South Dakota 


In loving memory of my dear friend Deano.  I know that yellow roses are a token of memory, but for Deano, it has got to be a tomato.  Deano always encouraged me to get The Garden Geeks site up and running, always there with a kind word or willing to help in any way he could.  Sent adorable homemade gifts around the holidays that still make me smile, and he always was there to talk to if I needed to vent.  Every December Deano would start asking about the new tomato seeds that may have come in during a swap, and then our late winter, early spring chatter would get going where we would discuss who's tomato plants were bigger and healthier.  I sure miss you Deano.  You memory lives on here at The Garden Geeks.  As always, sending ((HUGS))

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