Tomato seedlings grow quickly.
image by farmert/morguefile
The United States is second only to China in tomato production. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the US produces over $2 billion worth of tomatoes each year. Americans consume three-quarters of those tomatoes in the form of sauce, paste, juice and ketchup. Many Americans grow their own tomatoes in home gardens or containers as well as buying them at a store or farm stand. Starting them at home is easy, as the seeds germinate quickly, producing young seedlings ready for planting within a few weeks.
Fill flats or trays with seed starter 8 weeks before the last expected frost. Individual pots may be used if preferred, but are more difficult to care for. Trays with individual plant cells and a plastic cover are ideal for the home gardener. Plant tomato seeds to a depth of ¼ inch and water to moisten the soil. Cover the container with the plastic cover. Clear plastic wrap can also be used to cover containers. The cover holds in heat and moisture while allowing light to penetrate.
Place the seed tray in a warm location. Tomatoes benefit from bottom heat. Place on top of the water heater or television for quick germination. Temperatures of 80 degrees F are ideal for germinating tomato seeds. Some seeds germinate in as little as 3 days, but most will sprout within a week.
Remove the cover as soon as seedlings appear to increase air circulation and prevent disease. Grow in a sunny location. Keep soil moist and begin fertilizing with one-quarter-strength fertilizer when seedlings are 4 weeks old.