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Starting Tomatoes From Seeds


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Let's get ready to grow!


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Tomatoes are an incredibly rewarding crop to grow! Just one plant can provide a garden with unmatched beauty and ENORMOUS amounts of food. Being a warm season crop, tomato seedlings and plants need to be protected from freezing temperatures and harsh weather conditions to grow, thrive and survive. For this reason, we start tomato seeds indoors and do not plant them outside until the threat of frost in our area has passed.

Temperatures 36°F and below can easily kill or severely damage a tomato plant. Optimal temperatures for tomatoes to thrive range between 65-95°F, but plants can tolerate temperatures that are higher and lower than this range for increments of time. When temperatures are consistently high (95+) or low (55-), it can be detrimental to the health and over-all performance of the plants, causing a multitude of problems; like stunted growth, disease, blossom drop, etc.

To set yourself up for a successful tomato growing season, start your seeds indoors or in a protected and controlled environment. Sufficient light, quality potting soil, and warmth are crucial to being successful! Starting seeds indoors before the last threat of frost has passed will allow you to have strong, established seedlings that are ready to go in the ground when the temperatures have warmed, giving you a head start on the season and supporting you in a much earlier harvest!


Start your tomatoes seeds 6-9 weeks prior to your climate's average last frost. As seedlings become established and temperatures warm, you will need to gradually transition them outdoors, or "harden them off" before planting out. Tomatoes should not be planted outside, until the threat of frost has passed and weather conditions are mild.


To find out your climate's average last frost date and acquire your regions Agriculture Grow Zone (along with high and low temperatures, season length, etc.), enter your zip code in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map generator here:


Average last frost date for zone 6b is June 1

(Calculate 6-9 weeks prior to June 1)

Seeds should be started sometime between: March 30 - April 16 (6-9 weeks prior to June 1)


For some of our favorite seed starting supplies visit our Carmel Bella Farm Strore


**There are many alternative methods to sowing seeds - such as different planting containers, soil mediums, labels, etc. Over time you will find what fits your needs best. Below is a step-by-step guide that can be tailored to your preferences.

  1. PREPARE YOUR SEED STARTING MIX/SOIL: Pour your seed starting mix, plus a small handful of worm castings (if using), into a large bowl or bucket. Add a few cups of lukewarm water and mix well, removing any twigs and breaking down chunks of mix at this time. The mix should be evenly damp but not soggy or overly wet. Our favorite premade soils are from PRO MIX, Fox Farms, Coast of Maine, or Gardeners. All of these can be found in our storefront at this link: Carmel Bella Farm Store

  2. Now fill your seed cells to the top with soil and gently press down to ensure there are no air pockets in the bottom of the cells. Press down gently and top off cells where needed, leaving about 1/4 inch of room at the top of each. Find our favorite seed cell packs and sturdy reservoir trays here: Carmel Bella Farm Store

  3. Use a pencil to poke 2-3 small holes, side by side, near the center of each cell. The holes should be shallower than the depth of a pencil’s eraser, just under an 1/8 of an inch deep each. Seeds will not sprout if buried too deep.

  4. Plant 1 seed in each hole, totaling 2-3 seeds per cell, to ensure germination.

  5. Cover gently, making sure all sides of the seed has come into contact with the soil.

  6. Label and date each variety promptly, as it can be very easy to forget what was planted. Tomato seeds can take anywhere from 4 -14 days to germinate...all varieties are different and growing environments and products used can greatly impact their success or failure.

  7. Fill the drainage tray / water reservoir below so that your pots sit in 1/4 - 1/2 inch of lukewarm water. This allowes the soil in the cells to soak up water from the base of the pots like a sponge, rather than pouring water into the top of the soil, which can potentially dislodge your seeds or drown them. Watering from the base can establish a stronger root system as well, prevent dampening off, and prevent fungus gnats.

  8. Cover the entire tray with a dome, plastic wrap or a clear plastic bag to help retain moisture, warmth and speed up germination. Note* Remove the covering a couple of times each day to offer air flow and to prevent algae growth, mold and dampening off.

  9. Place your entire set-up on top of a heat mat or warm surface, and place underneath a grow light. At this stage, the grow light can be kept off until the first sign of life (first seed sprouts), or it can be kept on, but placed at a safe distance away so it doesnt immedaitely dry out your soil, or cause to much humidity inside the dome. The room should be kept between 68 - 85° Fahrenheit for the best germination.

  10. IMPORTANT! When the first seed sprouts: a) Remove the dome or plastic promptly. b)Remove the heat mat. c)Provide light to your seedlings if you were not before. d)Set up a gentle fan which will be used soon (more on fan in step 13). You do not need to wait for the other seeds to emerge to do these steps.

  11. Position the light as close as possible to your tray, without damaging your plants. If your light emits high heat, distance further to prevent burning your seedlings or drying the soil out too quickly. Watch closely for the first few hours/days to see how the seedlings and soil are reacting. If the soil dries up quickly or seedlings are bending outward, the light is too close. If the plants are reaching upward, the light is too far. The goal is to keep your light close enough to support your plants in growing stout and strong, instead of leggy and weak. Side note: The other seedlings will sprout shortly after if you are keeping the soil moist and the environment warm.

  12. The hours of light you provide to your seedlings is a personal preference, but it is best to offer approximately 14 hours a day at minimum if possible.

  13. Once all of your seedlings begin to sprout, you will turn your fan on low and have it rotate back and forth. It should offer a light breeze, good airflow and gently vibrate the seedlings as they grow. This provides airflow, helps prevent dampening off, distributes the heat from the grow light evenly, encourages the plants to root deeper and to have thicker stems, promoting stronger and hardier plants.

  14. WATERING: Check the moisture of your soil daily. Tomatoes do better in soil that is damp to somewhat dry versus overly wet. Do not let them sit in water when the soil is already wet! Practice a consistent watering schedule by pouring about a 1/2 inch of water into the reservoir that your seed trays sit in when the soil begins to dry. You can mist the the top layer of the soil while your seedlings are germinating as well. Refrain from pouring water into the top of the soil until your seedlings are larger and have strong root systems.

  15. Over the next two weeks, if multiple seeds in each cell have germinated, you can pinch out the weaker sprouts by cutting them at the base with scissors and disposing of them OR choose to separate the seedlings and replant them into their own indivual pots. Stout, strong stemmed seedlings with large cotyledons (first set of leaves) are choice contenders to grow. To keep extra sprouts, you will need to dislodge the seedlings by gently squeezing the base of the cell and turning them on their side- avoid being rough and pulling on the stem. You can now detangle the seedling's roots. Replant each seedlings into a new pot with prepared potting soil. Plant your seedling deep so that almost the entire stem is buried. Immediately water them in. (This is one of the only times I water from the top of the soil instead of from the base). It helps the roots settle in and prevents transplant shock.

  16. Your plants will produce its first true leaves (cotyledons) after approximately 2 weeks. Some choose to feed their tomato plants immediately after germination, but I prefer to feed at this time. It is recommended to mix an all purpose, water-soluble fertilizer at half the recommended strength. I feed the seedlings 1 time a week, simply by pouring it into the reservoir in place of normal watering.

  17. After around 4 weeks, when your plants are on their second set of true leaves, you will want to up pot them them into larger containers.

You can find all of our seed starting supplies here:

Have fun and enjoy the process!


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