Looking at all the seed catalogs can make a gardener itchy to sprout seeds. Experimenting with greenhouse tomatoes and lettuce is helping with that. As I look at the days to production on the seed packet, I realize that next year I could have fresh tomatoes in the mid winter, if I start the greenhouse tomatoes around September. As it is, starting them now, there may be fruit in May, when all the other tomatoes are just beginning to grow. I think it’s worth a try.
I purchased Cobra tomato seed and Tom Thumb lettuce from Territorial Seed Company. They offered two choices suggested for tomato greenhouse production. Knowing that it is always a challenge to mimic optimum growing conditions in a greenhouse, it seemed wise to buy a variety that is breed for thriving in indoors. Cobra is a hybrid tomato suited for greenhouse survival. Tom Thumb is just a small butterhead lettuce, so I thought it would be easier to grow under the lights.
I haven’t done a lot of research about growing greenhouse vegetables. I guess I assumed that since I have sprouted and tended so many seedlings there that it wouldn’t be very different. However, Territorial Seed Company sent some concise, but specific instructions that made me aware of caveats that will make success more likely. Most of these have to do with temperature exposure and helping with pollination. Sprouting the seeds is the same.
- I decided to sprout my seeds in two used cardboard egg cartons this time. I was thinking of space saving and being able to fit them in warming spots more easily.
- I used the same bagged soil that I use for all my spring seed sprouting, which I mix up to thick oatmeal consistency. (Experimenting in the past with seed starting soil has always lead me back to what I can get at Greenhurst Nursery in Nampa. It just has the best consistency, remaining friable throughout stages of moisture.)
- Then, I put the seeds in and give it one final misting to help the seeds settle into contact with the soil.
- Clear plastic waste basket liners were put over it all to create the mini-greenhouse effect, as well as keep the moisture from damaging shelves.
When the first lettuce sprouted, I moved that whole carton to the greenhouse lights. Unfortunately, it is much colder in the greenhouse this time of year, even with the little electric heater. Whereas in the spring, the rest of the sprouts follow close on the heels of the first ones, this time the lettuce sprouting seemed to be inhibited by moving to the greenhouse. (Addendum: they all sprouted en masse after the original posting of this. They may still have been suffering from being too near the heat in the house.)
I regretted not having used individual pots to sprout the seeds, so that I could leave each pot in the warm location until there were signs of life. If the lettuce, a cool weather crop, was having difficulty, I expected the tomatoes to be very reticent to break forth.
Happily, the tomatoes, though later than the lettuce by a few days, sprouted more en masse. They, too, have been moved to the grow light stands. While they finished the process of raising their heads, I misted them a couple of times a day.
I may have missed the timing of cold treatment for this phase, but it wasn’t very warm in the greenhouse. I don’t have the set up to regulate the temperature exactly. It seems that the lights heat up the plants some. Also, we have fish in a pond in there, so have to keep the temperature up. At this point the little tomato plants, with only their first leaves, look stout and vigorous, so it is time to proceed to the next step for greenhouse tomato management. I will let you know how that goes. Maybe I will have tomatoes in May after all.