Planting Tomato Seeds Directly In The Garden Soil
The following sowing and transplanting methods are available to the gardener who wants to start tomato seeds outside without the use of a greenhouse.
Tomato seeds can be sowed directly into a seed bed. However, this is by far the riskiest method in temperate climates. It is only suitable for those areas which have a last frost date during the month of March. In all other areas, the soil is unlikely to be warm enough at a time which will allow the tomato plant to develop fruit. The soil temperature must be at least 60 degrees F at the time of sowing and during germination. It is possible to utilize a small cold frame to keep the soil warmer, inducing germination, and to protect the young seedling from a late frost.
Planting the Seeds
Using a trowel or hoe, dig a shallow trench about 1" deep in the prepared garden soil. Place two seeds every nine inches in the trench and cover the seeds with 1" of soil. Water well if the conditions are at all dry.
If you keep the soil damp, but not wet, and the soil is warm enough, you can expect the seedling to emerge in about 10 days or so. When the seedling are about 2" tall, thin them to one plant every 24" apart.
When seedlings reach 6" in height in the garden soil follow tips below for staking.
Sowing Tomato Seeds Outdoors In A Container or Pot
Alternatively, you can start your tomato plants in outdoor containers, then transplanting the seedlings to your garden soil. Sowing tomato seeds outdoors in pots is similar to sowing the seed indoors in pots with the exception that the pots are stored outside while the seed germinates.
When starting tomato seeds outdoors in pots, timing and position of the potted plants are the key factors to success. Keep the pots in the warmest part of the garden (against a house wall is ideal), where the planted pots will receive raiant heat from the home, will help to hasten germination and subsequent growth. Covering the plant with a transparent cover works well for protection and heat retention.
Timing is the most difficult aspect of this method - keeping the plants under a transparent cover, and or against a house wall, will raise the temperature and permit earlier growing, but it is not an exact science. The basic rules of no frost and a minimum soil temperature of 60 degreesmust be achieved.
Where tomato seedlings have been started in pots, they should be transplanted into their final positions when they are about 6" high.
Staking: Just before transplanting the tomato plants to their final position in the garden drive a strong stake into the ground about 2" from the planting position. The stake should be at least 1 foot deep in the ground and 4 feet above ground level. The further the stake is into the ground the better the support. Alternatively, you can use tomato "cages," made from sturdy wire, as support for your tomato plants. Most nursery and garden centers or feed & seed stores carry tomato cages and stakes.
Planting To transplant a container-grown seedling in the garden, dig a hole in the bed to the same depth as the pot. Ease the plant out of the pot, keeping the root ball undisturbed as much as possible. Place it in the hole and fill around the plant with soil. The soil should be a little higher than it was in the pot. Space tomato plants 2 to 3' apart in the garden. Water if conditions are at all dry.
Loosely tie the plant's stem to the support stake using soft garden ties or twine - allow some slack for future growth.