Monday, April 11, 2011

Pet your Tomatoes!

My tomatoes are actually happy this year.  I think it's because I followed some simple advice I read in various gardening books, or gleaned from friends somewhere along the way. First, I chose tomatoes that were bred for the Pacific Northwest by Territorial Seed Company. Stupice is an Ultra Early tomato, with a 60-65 day cycle. We Seattle area people know this is crucial for our short growing season. People think I'm a little wacky to attempt growing tomatoes from seed in our climate, but I figure if the nurseries do it, why shouldn't I save a few dollars and do the same? I have grown these for the last few years, and they definitely produce better when we have a good long hot season like we did two years ago. They are a smaller tomato, which is expected because of their short growing period, but by the time that hot summer was done, I had enough to freeze to supply us with tomatoes for the year.

This year I grew some Romas too, but they were planted late because I was waiting to have seed $, so I am not sure they will make it to maturity before the fall rains. If they don't I can still uproot the tomato plants and hang them in the garage like I have in the past. They will still ripen through the fall and early winter, even without dirt!

Here's the link to Territorial's site for the Stupice.

We start our tomatoes in expandable peat pellets.  I pour in warm water, they puff up, I rough up the surface, and plant the tomatoes just a few millimeters beneath the soil.  As soon as the tomato plant is about an inch high, I expose it to conditions it might experience in nature, thus forcing it to strengthen.

Therefore, I pet my tomatoes!  I usually have them growing right on the window sill in my kitchen, so a few times a day, when I walk by, I run my hand over the tops of them, and even blow on them a little, in order to simulate wind and maybe an animal walking by.   I think this, and frequent transplanting is my key to success!

Once you have a good little 2-3 inch high plant, you should transplant them.  I remove the little mesh covering from the peat pellet and rough it up a little to promote root expansion.  Then, I put the pellet in the bottom of a larger pot with about an inch of dirt beneath them.  In my case, I just buy paper cups from Costco and reuse them every year.

Next, I put just enough potting soil to come within 1 inch of the leaves of the plant.  Tomatoes are very fancy plants, in that, when you bury their stem, those little hairs on it turn into more roots, meaning more surface area to collect food and water, which means a happier tomato plant!

Then, just as many people do with potatoes, i continue to cover the stem of the plant with soil as it grows.  The stem grows stronger and wider and the roots grow to happily fill every square inch of soil in the cup.

Once the plants are 6-7 inches tall, they are ready for one last transplanting.  I put mine into pots about 6 inches wide and 8 inches deep.  Then, when the last frost date has come and gone, it's time for the tomatoes to venture into the great outdoors.  For 3-6 days, I harden them off, which is just a fancy way of saying that I begin to put them outdoors for the bulk of the day, bringing them in at night, and then finally leaving them on the porch all night.

When the tomatoes have acclimated to the change in temperature, I will set them free....into tomato cages, and carefully stake them up as they meet each rung of the cage.  I pinch off extra shoots, so that the energy goes into just a few main stems.  I am careful to be sure not to saturate the plant too much when watering, and I plant them in my sunniest, most well drained spot.  This is because tomatoes hate to have wet feet.  They will grow beautifully, setting fruit, begin to ripen, and then get these terrible bruises on one side, with the other side ripening prettily. It is very discouraging when this happens, so plant in a dryer, fluffy spot of soil, and water well!

Then I allow them to flower and wait for the fruits of my efforts. Voila!  Wonderful juicy tomatoes, worth every second of petting!

Here's a link to a place to buy these fun little peat pellets.


  1. Why thank you. I think it's from a lot of trial and error.


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