Time to start tomato seed
Start from seed
Try these full flavored heirlooms
When to Start Tomato Seed
The short answer is 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. Check with the local University Extension center to find the last frost date for your area.
You have plenty of time to order and start your own tomato seed. Starting seeds 6-8 weeks before last frost is a guideline, not a rule. Tomatoes can't go into the garden until the soil warms up. So starting seed in March or early April, is OK.
Note the last expected spring frost date on your calendar.
For me, in Southeast Missouri zone 6A, that day is the Ides of April, Tax Day, or my sister's birthday.
The recommendations suggest that it takes about 6- 8 weeks to produce a healthy transplant from seed. Aim for 6 weeks.
The room temperature, light source, the growing medium and moisture all affect the growth of the tomato seedling. The seedlings should be grown in a warm area and receive at least 12 to 16 hours of sunlight daily.
The goal is to produce 6 – 8 inch tall plants ready for the outdoors about 2 weeks after the last frost date. So, count 4 – 6 weeks back from that last frost date. The plants should be grown in a warm area and receive 12 to 16 hours of sunlight daily.
Hold back, don't start your seedlings too early. A few weeks late is better than a few weeks early.
Check the date
The goal is to produce 6 – 8 inch tall plants ready for the outdoors about 2 weeks after the last frost date.
Choose an early tomato variety
Seed starting time
Start seeds too early and the plants will become weak, leggy and root-bound. This will set your transplants back a couple of weeks as they struggle to recover when planted.
Start seeds late and you can have a delayed crop, although healthy transplants may catch up because of the warmer soil and weather. This guide is the same for all tomatoes.I choose to grow heirlooms for that rich, old-time taste that is sometime bred out of newer hybrid.
Plan to plant tomato seedlings outdoors 1-2 weeks after the last frost date. Waiting longer to plant after the last frost date will reduce the chance of losing the weeks of growing your tomato crop to a late freeze.
Here are a few more sites to find what your last frost date:
National Water and Climate Center (NWCC) has all the information that a garden and weather geeks ever wanted.
Starting tomatoes from seed
Seedlings require 12-16 hrs of light
Small and early tomatoes
- Cherry - Riesentraube - is an indeterminate, producing bunches of small fruit all summer. Originally from Germany, 'Riesentraube' translates from the German as "giant bunch of grapes". Each of the little tomatoes has a pointed blossom end.
Riesentraube (Solanum lycopersicum) produces about 75 days from transplant. These are larger than the most well known cherry tomatoes.. Provide sturdy staking or caging and the plants will keep growing and producing until frost.
- Early - Stupice - Indeterminate. Potato-leaved vines to 4 feet. Very well-flavored 3-6 ounce fruits, good yielder even in cooler weather. Originally introduced in the West by Czech Milan Sodomka who obtained the seed from a Czech breeder. Widely grown in this country since 1976. 52-85 days
Try black tomatoes for complex flavor
Sweet Pineapple tomatoes
Main season tomatoes
- Granny Cantrell - Indeterminate. Named after Lettie Cantrell, who grew this tomato from seed she received from a soldier returning from Germany after WWII. Lettie said it was the only tomato she grew. She saved seed from the largest tomatoes each summer. Some tomatoes can reach 2 1/2 lbs. Tasty. 75-85 days.
- German Johnson - Indeterminate, 1 to 1 1/2 lb, regular leaf, beefsteak type slicer. Heavy yielder, excellent rich flavor with few seeds. A Southern heirloom, believed to be one of the parents of Mortgage Lifter. Consistent taste test winner. 80 days.
3 beautiful bicolors
- Old German - Indeterminate fruits weigh up to one pound. Outstanding taste, meaty with few seeds. What Old German lacks in production, it makes up in flavor and beauty. 75 days
- Pineapple - Indeterminate 1 pound yellow slicers streaked with red. Regular leaf, beefsteak, old fashioned flavor is sweet and fruity. Good yield. 90 days
- Gold Medal - Indeterminate, 1 pound, regular leaf, beefsteak: slicers. Blemish free, lovely, yellow fruit with red radiating from the blossom end. Solid, sweet and mild. Low acid. 85 days.
Hefty and firm Pineapple tomatoes have few seeds.
Win the first tomato contest
Go with the smaller tomatoes and those bred in colder climates to win the first tomato of the year in your neighborhood. Stupice put me a full 3 weeks ahead of the neighborhood competition.
Growing tomatoes known to thrive in cool weather may only be possible if you start tomato from seed.
Lay down black plastic over the garden soil. Tomatoes to best in warmer soil. A plastic sheet will draw heat into the ground. Cover or protect plants from the odd late frost. Tomato plants will not survive a freeze, regardless.
Stake or cage tomatoes early. Provide well worked soil with plenty of organic matter. After the soil is well warmed, mulch to help maintain consistent moisture.
More heirloom tomatoes to consider
Best Home Garden Tomato: Royal Hillbilly - almost a cult following, this tangy-sweet flavor is that pure old-fashioned tomato taste many folks are seeking.
Best Home Garden Tomatoes: Chocolate Amazon - nonstop producer of chocolaty-red midsize tomatoes.
Best Home Garden Tomatoes: Granny Cantrell German beefsteak - Big pink beefsteak typ tomato averaging about a pound each.