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Starting tomatoes outside

Tomato seedlingOver the years, I've learned that putting tomato seeds in a cold frame (or, this year, a quick hoop) in early April results in sets that are smaller than those started inside but more ready to hit the ground running when it comes time to transplant them into the garden in mid May.  It sounds counterintuitive --- start with smaller plants, end up with more tomatoes --- but my cold frame seedlings tend to have more roots and to be healthier than seedlings started in flats indoors.

Cold frame tomatoes don't send up leaves until mid to late April, so they  never get leggy and aren't exposed to any low temperatures that can stunt their growth.  During the years that I started tomatoes indoors, I often ended up with plants that grew slowly even once I put them out in the garden since night-time temperatures in the trailer in April can easily drop down into the thirties or forties, doing long term damage to the Asparagus shoottender seedlings.  If your tomato seedlings have a purplish cast to their leaves, they've been stunted by cold weather.

The only really hard part about starting tomatoes in a cold frame is hearing from your friends about how they started tomatoes two weeks ago, and not giving in to peer pressure.  I just remind myself that my method not only works better, it's also less work and requires no electricity, and I manage to hold firm until the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees.  For future reference, asparagus shoots up at the same temperature tomato seeds need for germination, so I won't need to relentlessly check soil temperature next year.  (And, look, asparagus!!)

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Asparagus envy :)
Comment by Fostermamas Sat Apr 9 11:03:10 2011
I know what you mean --- I read some more southern blogs, and when the first one mentioned asparagus, my mouth started watering. If it makes you feel any better, this one is still too small to eat.
Comment by anna Sat Apr 9 11:28:27 2011
I have always wanted to try starting my tomatoes outside, but was repeatedly told not to bother. This year's are already in the ground, but I think I will do this next year. Or maybe even for fall tomatoes... we are in south Louisiana. Thanks for the idea! I just ordered your e-book and I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. :)
Comment by Alice Sun Apr 10 09:36:38 2011

Well, you wouldn't want to start them outside from seed with no protection, or you'd be envious of your neighbors' early tomatoes. :-) But if you're willing to make a quick hoop or cold frame, you'd be surprised at how well it works!

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Comment by anna Sun Apr 10 10:16:09 2011

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