tomatoes from seed: 2 secrets

THERE ARE OTHER people who can show you step-by-step how they start tomatoes from seed, but I have two little secrets: 1, APS System, and 2, control yourself. The former is a self-watering system of styrofoam cells that will last forever and I think of as an essential garden tool. The second, well, the second is the problem with seed-starting in general and tomato-growing in particular. Think on this as you start to sow every last seed in the pack: How many cherry tomatoes can a person eat in one season? (Answer: a plant or two will supply an average family, with several buckets of leftovers.) Sow just a few more of each than you will need, to allow for germination failure, and save the remaining seeds for next year or share with friends. Sow in the next week to have sturdy young plants ready for set-out about Memorial Day to early June.

  1. Elaine says:

    Hi, Margaret. Thank you for the tip about the APS System. I will defintely check that out. I must confess though that this year I bought some heirloom tomato plants. (I hope that doesn’t get me kicked off the blog!) I had some problem with hornworms the last time I tried growing these and got really frustrated trying to get rid of those pests by picking them off. So, I decided to try them again this year, but I didn’t want to go through all the nurturing of seeds only to have them all devoured by hornworms! Do you have any tips on how to keep them away?

  2. margaret says:

    There is a joke among gardeners that every packet of tomato seed comes with free seed for hornworms, too. (I mean, otherwise where COULD those prehistoric creatures come from?) Whether homegrown or store-bought plants (the latter approach is fine, by the way), when you grow tomatoes you will probably get hornworms. It’s essential to look around the base of plants for droppings (and of course for the first signs of any chewing on leaves) early and often. Then handpick the caterpillars and drop them in a bucket of water to drown them (I can’t deal with squishing them, big baby that I am). I don’t know any other method of control that’s safe and certain more than using our powers of observation to get the worms as soon as they show up. Usually if I get a few at the very first signs that’s it–no further worms or damage.
    But now that you ask I will do some more reading on the topic.

  3. gardenboy says:

    Another secret that I learned from the garden writer, Tm Christopher, was to have a little personal sized fan blowing across the seedlings. That little bit of wind makes the plants much stockier.

  4. Linda Horn says:

    Petasites jap is a very invasive plant from Japan. It should not be promoted as a garden plant. At this time on the planet the need for natives that support birds and insects is the responsible way to go. There are many natives that are available that are more in harmony with the New York landscape than many of these highly touted plants that not only look out of place but are.

  5. margaret says:

    Welcome to Renee. No, no, it’s not the lights–everybody knows the seeds for the hornworms come right in the tomato-seed packets. ;-)
    (But now I will have to go check into your other theory, thanks for the tip.)

  6. renee says:

    After a run-in with tomato hornworms, it was suggested to me that the caterpillars were there because my patio lights had attracted hawk moths which had laid their eggs there.
    Love your site!

  7. Diane says:

    I love your website, Margaret, and find your information reliable and helpful.

    Re: the APS System — I note that this entry is dated 2008, and I wonder what you think of the comments on the Gardeners Supply website that say it is flimsy, and whether you still use it. I am thinking of trying the Fast Start Seedstarter instead. Thanks!

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