Thursday 15 March 2012

Sowing Tomato seeds

I had a major blitz on seed-sowing last weekend. I sowed Aubergines, Sweet Corn, Summer Cabbage, Red Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts  - and nine different varieties of Tomato.

As regular readers will know, I don't have a huge amount of space available, but in order to maximise it I grow lots of veggies in pots and containers. In normal circumstances I can squeeze in about 10 or 12 Tomato plants. Last year I sowed far too many Tomato seeds and I ended up having to dispose of 15 or 20 perfectly healthy seedlings. This year I am being more disciplined. I have sown Tomato seeds in 22 small pots, and I will probably keep about 50% of these. With some exceptions, I usually put 2 seeds in each pot and then remove the weaker seedling after germination, so 22 pots doesn't equal 22 seeds, but it does mean I am fairly sure to have at least 22 plants to choose from.

This photo shows my "potting bench" loaded with all the relevant paraphernalia...

You will readily understand the labelled 7.5cm pots, the watering-can, and the bag of compost, but what about the other things? First there are the Elmlea pots (the blue and white ones).

These cream pots are narrower than the regular pots, but taller too, so they are ideal for young Tomatoes, as long as you make a hole in the base for drainage. I fill them only half-full with compost, so when the seeds germinate and produce little seedlings I can add more compost at a later stage in order to bury the stems a bit deeper. This is beneficial because it promotes additional root growth from the stem. In these containers I have sowed only one seed each.

Then the small bamboo stick. This is for manoeuvering the seeds into exactly the right position, and then pushing them into the surface of the compost. In other words, it's a cheap "Dibber". And the sieve? I use this for covering the seeds with a layer of very fine compost after sowing. (Don't worry, I haven't pinched it from the kitchen...)

The Tomato varieties I have chosen this year are Ferline, Sungold, Incas, Lizzano, San Marzano, Maskotka, Losetto, Speckled Roman and Orkado. Many thanks to Jo who writes the Blog "The Good Life" for kindly providing the Incas seeds.

For the sake of any new gardeners who might be reading this I am going to describe in detail how I sow my Tomato seeds.

1. Write the names of the seeds you are going to sow onto some labels - one per pot if possible. Otherwise have some way of remembering which seeds go into which pots - e.g. "The Ferline are in the black ones, and the Orkado are in the green ones", or something similar.

2. Fill your containers (mostly 3" / 7.5cm pots in my case) with compost. You can buy specialist "Seed Compost", but I don't bother. I just use general-purpose compost, ensuring that I break down any lumps.

3. Tap the filled containers sharply on a hard surface to settle the compost, but don't press it down hard or it will be too compacted.

4. Water the containers, using a small watering-can with a fine rose, making sure that the compost is evenly moist, but not wet.

5. Place the seeds indivdually onto the surface of the moist compost, using a dibber as necessary. (Some people use a pair of tweezers). If sowing more than one seed per pot, ensure that there is some space between them.

6. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of fine dry compost.

7. Insert the appropriate label at the edge of the pot.

8. Place in a propagator or cover with a large plastic bag.

9. Provide warmth until germination.

10. Check every day after the first two or three days to see if the seeds have germinated. (Tomatoes can sometimes germinate very rapidly) and move them to a position with lots of light as soon as possible after germination.


I'll write about the "potting on" and "planting out" stages in due course....


  1. Very necessary basic tips for successful growing of tomato plants.

  2. Very helpful article, thank you. I will be using your advice in my 'grow your own' experiment.

  3. Throwing healthy seedlings away is always a strain isn't it?

  4. The only variety there I'm familiar with is San Marzano, I've never grown it but dad has but hasn't had a great deal of success - his climate is a bit too cool for it he reckons. I'll be interested to know how yours gets on.

  5. That's a good idea about only half filling the pots and topping up later. I must remember that one.

  6. Well, that beats my throw it in the pot and watch it grow, lol. Very nice.

  7. It's nice to see you enjoy growing a large variety of tomatoes. We had quite a few different types last year about 6 varieties. However the best of the lot was still the good old Moneymaker, so that's all we are growing this year. (I think!!)

    Martin :0)

  8. A really interesting point about topping up with compost as the seedling grows, I shall put that little snippet of useful information in to use myself this year. I'm growing more plants than I normally do this year as I want a bigger crop so that I can make sauces. It'll be interesting to see how Incas does for us both.

  9. I hate getting rid of surplus seedlings. Last year I offered all my spare tomato, chilli and pepper plants on Freegle and was amazed at the demand for them! I'm groeing San Marzano for the first time this year - hopefully they'll do well in my greenhouse.

  10. That's quite a variety you have there. I'm going to keep it simple. Planning on focusing on determinate romas for canning. Great tip on topping off to promote more roots!

  11. Thank you! this is a very imformative post! I'm very new to vegetable gardening (I have been a flower gardener for over 30yrs, though) Your idea of initially half filling the pot is very wise..That's what I've always done with flowers i've started from seeds and it works wonders for strengthening the stems.

  12. Good selection of tomatoes, I'm going with Goldstar for my main variety after a veg talk I attended last weekend.

  13. I love growing tomatoes, but I find they only grow well in a greenhouse in the uk and I don't have one :(. I've tried grow bags a few times but I don't have a spot sunny enought for them. Still haven't got those chilli seeds yet either.. better get my skates on! Do you buy yours on line?


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