Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Seedlings: Day 8
These are tomato seedlings at Day 8 ... At this point, they're about 1.5 inches tall and the pots are almost ready to be thinned. Right now, it's basically impossible to tell one variety from another—this photo happens to show Brandywines, Cherokee Purples, and Heinz tomatoes. But even though they all look the same, I've already started to notice some differences with these heirloom tomatoes ...
The Brandywines and to a lesser extent the Cherokee Purples are stretching on me more than I'm accustomed to. Stretching is when young seedlings grow too fast. They become elongated and top heavy, with a weak stem. It's usually caused by insufficient light, either because the sunlight is too weak or the lights are too far away. To remedy this stretching, I moved the lights closer to the plants, but I've started to see a little burning on the emergent leaves. So it seems to be a toss-up.
At this point, I'm watering every day, but I'm bottom watering the little pots so they can soak up what they need. I haven't started fertilizing yet because the soil mixture is enhanced with worm castings (which are a very weak nitrogen fertilizer), so too much fertilizer at this point can easily burn the plants. Later on, I'll be feeding heavily, but when they're seedlings, a tiny bit of food goes a long way.
These pots are almost ready to thin—at around Day 11 or so, I cut out the weak and small seedlings to leave only two or three in each pot. I'll further cut those out to leave only one in each pot. You want to strongest, thickest, biggest seedlings for your transplants. I'm expecting to get my plants outside in the second or possibly third week of October, but a lot of it depends on their size and vigor.
While they're growing, the days are pretty routine, and there really isn't much involved. It's hard to believe this little tray of seedlings will soon grow into a monstrous backyard garden, but that's the great thing about starting from seed. You get an package of seeds and violá! A few months later, you're elbow deep in vegetables.
For everyone out there whose planning on using store-bought transplants (which is most people, I'm guessing), still hold off. As I'm writing, we're looking at 4" to 8" of rain TODAY (thanks, tropics), so obviously this is not the kind of weather that young tomato plants can withstand. It'll kill 'em in an afternoon. Also, while I'm doing the seedling thing, I'll pull together a blog post on buying tomato plants, with some pointers on how to pick the best plants and what varieties work best.
As a final note, I'm still deeply impressed with the cucumber seedlings. I don't have a picture of them, but wow, these things are really taking off ... I'm liking the cucumbers.