General Question

jaytkay's avatar

Must tomato seeds "start indoors"?

Asked by jaytkay (25767points) May 1st, 2010

I have a package of cherry/grape tomato seeds for a big clay pot on my porch. The instructions say “Start indoors in a warm, well lighted area 6–8 weeks before planting outdoors”.

I want to simply put them in the dirt, water and wait. I’m in northern Illinois, frost is highly unlikely. The pot gets at least 6 hours of direct sun (on a sunny day).

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27 Answers

PandoraBoxx's avatar

The reason they say start them inside is that to get them to the point where you will have tomatoes, it will take more time than the average outdoor growing season. From seed to fruit, you need more time than the length of the summer. If you were living in Florida, you could do that, but not in IL.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, it is dependant on your zone.

In Ca. I can start from seed outdoors in May and harvest through Oct. early Nov.

I am in the northern part of the state, in soutern Ca. things grow nearly year round too.

laureth's avatar

They won’t get frost now, but they will get frost at the end of the season, probably before you were done with them. @PandoraBoxx is spot on.

That’s also pretty low sun for a tomato plant. They’re sun gluttons; it takes a lot of solar power to make a tomato.

jaytkay's avatar

Ahh, I forgot to look at total growing time. But wait, the package says 68 days to harvest. That’s July 8. Tomatoes will probably grow here until October.

So timing looks OK.

If there is no other objection, I and just gonna put them in the pot.

gailcalled's avatar

You should plan on watching that plant grow slowly, if a frost doesn’t kill it (it is still possible to get a killing frost in your area), and buy your local tomatoes at a farm stand.

My sister started hers on a sunny windowsill six weeks ago and won’t move them outside until Memorial Day. We are in zone 4. Check yours’. In parts of N. IL it is zone 4.

laureth's avatar

(I was under the belief that the 68 days is usually counted not from when the seed is planted, but from when the seedling is transplanted outdoors.)

PandoraBoxx's avatar

If the ground temperature is too cold, it can slow the growth of the plant. If you start them outside, you may want to keep them under a cloche until it really warms up. You can make them out of 2 liter soft drink bottles.

jaytkay's avatar

I was under the belief that the 68 days is usually counted not from when the seed is planted, but from when the seedling is transplanted outdoors.

Good point. The package wording isn’t precise, but 68 days plus 6–8 weeks is early September, that’s still summer here.

keep them under a cloche until it really warms up
I learned a new word today! You rock!

My revised plan is to plant the seeds outside under a cloche made from a 2 liter soda bottle.

gailcalled's avatar

Remember that once it starts to sprout, each seed gets its own cloche.

(Another chance to see a dangling participle. “Each seed needs its own cloche once it starts to sprout.”)

Coloma's avatar

I like the little peat pots, one seed per pot and then you pick the most vigorous seedlings to plant. You cam make your own little outdoor greenhouse by staking and draping clear plastic over the seedlings.

You can also buy small hothouse tents that unfold like umbrellas to form a teepee over your seedlings.

gailcalled's avatar

You can also fill cardboard egg cartons with dirt, plant seeds and throw the whole thing into the garden. I have a friend who plants seeds in empty eggshells. That seems like a good idea.

jaytkay's avatar

I neglected to mention my budget for this project is exactly $0, so peat pots are out. I already own the seeds, a couple of 2 liter bottles and a cardboard egg carton (dammit, @gailcalled, you have introduced a new variable!)

I was avoiding indoor seeding because I had no indoor pots. I have the goddam egg carton.

Soooooo, my revised revised plan is to submit to Burpee’s wishes and plant the seeds indoors. In an egg carton. And move the most vigorous little fellas outside. Sadly, this may not involve a cloche.

gailcalled's avatar

Don’t forget that you can use clean egg shells if you want a more elegant effect. (And the water doesn’t drip out of them onto your furniture.)

If you use the egg carton, remember to put a tray underneath it and sprinkle water on each seed gently.

jaytkay's avatar

The egg carton looks perfect to me, thanks. I’m not ponce enough to make egg shell vases and a platform for them. (And the platform would be an egg carton, yes??)

gailcalled's avatar

Egg carton is cardboard and may leak. Use a cookie sheet or broiler tray as tray, if you know what I mean.

@jaytkay: Whenever (rarely) I buy the little 4— or 6-packs of annuals in the cheap plastic containers, I save them and use them for starter kits. I get soil from my woods and from my compost pile.

I now steal tomato plants ready to be put outside from my obliging sister. Her living room looks very much like a green house; baby tomatoes, peppers, dill, basil, parsley, beets, radishes, etc. That reminds me; you can start lettuce and peas outside before the last frost of the spring.

iam2smart99037's avatar

The best way to do it is start your seeds during the winter months and plant them as soon as the danger of frost has past, or at least that’s what my family’s done for generations here in OK.

jaytkay's avatar

@iam2smart99037 The best way to do it is start your seeds during the winter months…

I was busy/lazy.

Adagio's avatar

You could always plant the seeds inside and once big enough to plant outside use a cloche made from a recycled plastic bottle with the base cut out, until the weather is more conducive to tomato growing….

gailcalled's avatar

@Adagio: Interesting gardening site you mention ^^, but the photograph of the viceroy or possibly swallowtail butterfly on the purple thistle made my day. I just saw my first monarch today.

jaytkay's avatar

Update: Thanks again, everybody, I moved my seedlings outside today. I couldn’t stand waiting anymore, I made it halfway to the recommended 6 weeks.

Here is my egg carton nursery.

gailcalled's avatar

@jaytkay: I hate to rain on your parade, but you should now transfer each seedling into a larger container with good soil and drainage. They do not yet show the second set of leaves, which will look like tomato leafs. (I see you used styrofoam. I hope you poked a small hole in the bottom of each declivity (or whatever you call the space that holds the egg.)

Those who rush will usually feel the wrath of Mother Nature. One frost warning and you will be outside covering those tender shoots with sheets and tablecloths. We here in zone 4B wait, with some difficulty until Memorial Day.

jaytkay's avatar

@gailcalled Thanks, I wasn’t clear, I did move them to a big container. The photo shows their last moments in the egg carton.

gailcalled's avatar

@jaytkay: Whew. Handle with care until they are sturdier. And then stake with some twigs and string as they start to get taller. They like daily watering and heavy feeding. Treat gently until they are young adults.

Eating your first home-grown tomato is almost akin to having your first baby.

Edit; tomato leaves.

laureth's avatar

How are your tomatoes doing? I think about this question as I’m picking another round of mine for salads every day or two.

jaytkay's avatar

I have little green babies, maybe a week before I am picking cherry tomatoes. The plant is huge, about three feet tall.


Seedlings in an egg carton eleven weeks ago

The tomato plant today, alongside my basil


I get a big kick out of checking the progress. It’s MAGIC!

gailcalled's avatar

My cherry tomatoes are dripping with ripe tomatoes (zone 4, but an unusually hot summer); my beefsteaks have tomatoes in various stages; the first one gets picked tonight.

@jaykay; if the tomatoes are not entirely red but have a nice blush, you can pick them and let them ripen on a sunny windowsill ( succulent in several days).

laureth's avatar

Those look like nice ones, @jaytkay :)

With starting them inside (or planting seedlings), though, you get the tomatoes earlier in the season. It’s still good to get some at all, though, right? Even if they don’t pop up til August, instead of June?

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