Saturday, September 1, 2018

Winter Sowing Tomatoes

Every year in February (or sometimes March), I would start my tomato seeds. I would line up my little peat pellets and drop in a couple tomato seeds in each. The only place in our house that is even remotely ideal for starting plants is at the back door. So I would have my little 10 gallon aquarium squeezed in between the sliding glass door and the dining room table. Cords were stretched across the floor for the heating mat and grow light.

It was less than ideal. And while the seeds germinated just fine, the little seedlings still struggled to grow.

Late last year, I discovered a new way to start my tomato plants. It's called winter sowing and it promises to NOT take over my dining room every winter.

Basically, you start your seeds in empty gallon sized milk jugs that have been cut in half and filled with a rich soil ideal for seed starting. The seeds are planted and the milk jugs are sealed (with the top left open) and left outside in the elements. Nature does its thing and the seeds do their thing. When conditions are right inside the milk jug (think of the jugs as mini greenhouses), the seeds will germinate. The warmer conditions within the milk jugs keep your plants thriving even when the temperatures get really low outside.

For three months, we saved all our milk jugs from the recycling bin and in early March, I winter-sowed about 5 different varieties of short-season tomatoes and then some mint and catnip, just for fun. We got a couple of decent snowfalls after that and some fluctuating temps. The seeds didn't start to sprout until about late April. That really worried me because as mentioned before, I was used to starting the seeds indoors between mid Feb - Early March and waiting only about a week for germination.

By June 1st (official planting day!), some of the plants were so big they were trying to come out the top hole of the milk jugs!

I got a bit carried away transplanting the seedlings into my Earthboxes so there aren't any pictures to show how big they were. But here they are now at the beginning of September...

Big, lush and full of tomatoes (and trying to poke through the tops of the hail guards)!

I've already been harvesting tomatoes off of these plants for about four weeks - that NEVER happened before when I would start my seeds indoors. It was well into October before they looked like this last year!

So far, we've been able to harvest the Glacier and Supremo tomato varieties and both are VERY good.

And FYI, the hail guards that these tomato plants are sitting under do a great job of also providing just enough shade from the intense sun. My bean plants, sitting just a couple feet away from these tomatoes, don't have any shade and they are fried.

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