early tomato starts

our hoop house is little – at least when compared to what i’m used to.  i’ve mostly worked in houses that are 24-34 feet wide and 96 long.  our little 14 x 36 foot might be smaller – but it never feels cramped, due to the six foot ground post (and that i don’t have to share it with anyone but my family).  one major difference of working in this this house and the others i worked in, it’s ours.  no more improving soil for someone else – no more having to make decisions via consensus to decide planting dates – s and i just sit around the table and decide what to plant.

like most folks, getting tomatoes early is a big goal, but i’m not that into bragging about who has the earliest tomato, but i do like a good tomato (alright i do like to brag a bit, but it’s not the only reason for wanting early tomatoes).  how the early tomato has entered  the american psyche as the source for garden bragging i don’t really understand.  peas, spinach or even radishes are just as exciting to me.  xtra large pumpkins seem like the only other crop that comes close, and i don’t care at all about those – you either carve it or make soup out of it, otherwise the pumpkin has no point.  an early tomato you can eat, and that certainly seems worth bragging about.

because of the hoop house at work i have likely enjoyed fresh tomatoes much earlier than most detroiters.  with my own hoop house i can experiment with early tomatoes in a way i don’t feel at liberty at the farm.

so this year we are trying much larger tomato transplants.  i’m skeptical, my personal experience is that older take longer to bounce back from transplanting, but that’s out in the field.  in the hoop house they have less wind, more water and more shelter from cold.  perhaps they will do better.

is it really about earlier tomatoes?  i think it’s ultimately about starting tomatoes earlier.  nothing, nothing really gets me though the last of winter like starting seedlings.

there are so many possibilities for containers to start containers, but for several years now at home, i have settled on the not so high tech styrofoam egg carton.  it’s cheap, common, holds in heat well, and is shallow so heat from a heat mat penetrates easily.  i cut the top from the bottom and use the top as a tray to go underneath it, poke a hole in each of the egg holders, fill it soilless mix and yr good to go.

in order to label – i simple use an industrial waterproof marker to write on the tray of the egg carton underneath each of the egg holders.  it works better than little sticks.

egg carton

they go on a heat mat and a couple weeks later once they sprout they get pricked out and then go under lights.  if i have room i try to keep them on the heat mat as long as possible, but eventually they get kicked off to make room for the next crop.

prickout1pickout2lights

i’m growing these for twelve weeks, which is why i started them so early.  normally i go for a eight week transplant – but as stated before, i’m trying large transplants.

the peppers for the hoop house are also started – and i’ve direct sown, peas, carrots, beets, radishes, arugula, scallions, and spinach.

what grows in your winter garden?  i’ve been reading more about about grafting of tomatoes anyone with thoughts about that?

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3 responses to “early tomato starts

  1. Oh gosh, this makes me think I better get started on my tomatoes stat. Where I live we have a short growing season and I had to pick my tomatoes early last year so they wouldn’t get frost. How many plants will you plant for you and your family?

    • the plan if i recall is to plant three varieties in the hoop house – six of each. outside i would guess at least another 18 plants. this is much more than we can use during the summer, but we dry, freeze, and can quite a bit, and have avenues for sales if it get to be too much.

  2. There is simply nothing on earth like that tomato leaf smell, jealous!!!
    I have a coupe flats of lettuce under lights, but soon realized I need to start like ten flats every other week to get the qty of lettuce I want in winter! SALAD!!!!! Think instead of these indoor seeded flats, I’ll bump up my napa cabbage production this year for storage salads next winter, thy kept really well almost the whole winter and make such a lovely crunchy and sweet salad.

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