Growing Heirloom Tomatoes: The First Transplant
There are a few important situations that tomato seedlings require when starting them indoors. Timing, soil, temperature, lighting and proper watering methods will get your off to a great start.
When the requirements are met your plants should be ready for their first transplant after 4 to 6 weeks before they are ready for the hardening off process and going directly into the garden.
My seeds were sown on the last day of January. It has now been 4 weeks and I have my first very nice umbrella of leaves. This is the perfect time to transplant them into bigger pots.
It will still be another 4 weeks before the average last frost date for my garden zone. What that means basically is I will not be putting them outdoors before that time.
But what I want to concentrate on now is getting a strong healthy root system and a nice straight healthy stem. In doing so my plants will hold up through the entire season.
The deeper the root system the stronger the plant will be in holding up through strong winds. The roots will also be down deep in the garden soil allowing them to reach the moisture level that is not always available towards the surface.
Your main stem needs to be strong and healthy as well. This is very important because the main stem has to go through the entire season of holding clusters of heavy tomatoes. You don't want it to snap or contracting diseases.
Understanding heirloom tomatoes and the parts of the plant will help you grow a healthier plant with larger yields.
The most important thing to know about all tomatoes is that there are basically two types.
The first type is called a determinate, which is basically a bush type variety. Bush types are the best ones for growing in pots and containers for your patio. No pruning should be used when growing this variety. Staking or caging can sometimes be needed when the plant becomes heavy with fruit or if you are in a windy location.
The second type of tomato is called the indeterminate varieties which are the vining tomato plants. With this type pruning and tying the plant will be quite necessary. This is especially true with heirlooms and older varieties. Some heirlooms will vine well up to the top of your house.
We grow the vining indeterminate varieties of heirlooms predominantly in our gardens. So the first thing I will do is pinch off those first little leaves that I am touching in this photo. Then I will pinch off the first little side shoot right above it.
It is very important to make sure you have washed your hands good with soap and water before handling your tomato plants. They are very susceptible to disease at this delicate stage. It is also better to use your fingers rather than scissors. Scissors can transmit diseases. If you are using scissors be very sure that you have sterilized them. The young leaves and stems are very easily pinched off with your fingers, so I really don't find scissors necessary at this point.
After I have pinched the leaves I am going to transplant into a much deeper pot. I prefer a 1/2 gallon size at this point because of the length of my stem. Add just a sprinkling of your homemade garden soil mix to the bottom of the pot. Then set your plant all the way down into the pot. Cover the stem with more soil just to underneath the nice umbrella at the top of the plant. Now new roots will grow from the stem beneath the soil.
I've only needed to water my seedlings once during the first planting. Now my plants will receive their second soaking and placed back indoors until they are ready for the garden. It is important not to keep your plants drenched in water while indoors. This can also cause problems with damping off and disease while they are inside.
There are still many cloudy days during this time of year. Be sure your plants get good air circulation during the warmer days and plenty of air on the sunny days.