Newbie calling out an SOS for tomato seedlings!

tastytravels(8)May 16, 2010

I started tomato (and other warm weather crop) from seed late this year (last week of March for zone 7-8). They are looking pretty pathetic, only about 2-3 inches tall and just starting to develop first set of true leaves. Are they a total lost cause?

Anyone have tips to nudge them along? I've resorted to making mini greenhouses out of recycled dasani water bottles (those recycled corn bottles cut like paper!). I've read about "compost tea" but not sure if it will work with seedlings. I'd rather not fertilize unless you have organic solutions. Help!

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Bets(z6A S ID)

Hello Tasty,

If you started them in late March, the seedlings are now about 5 - 6 weeks old and could be transplanted to the garden pretty soon. They should have more than one set of true leaves on them by now. What are they planted in? How many seedlings per container?

I don't think you need fertilizer, unless they are still in the orignal soiless seed starting mix. In which case, if your garden is ready, plant them. If it isn't, pot them up. We usually say bury them to the lowest leaves, and you could still do that or you might want to only go half way.

We can give you better feedback if we have a better idea of how your seedlings were grown. (Plants per container, lighting, watering, etc.)

Betsy

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 9:55PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I agree with Betsy - plant them in the garden - after you harden them off well of course.

Some folks plant out seedlings with nothing more than 1 set of true leaves and some at the cotyledon stage. Many not be the ideal but in your zone you are losing valuable growing time.

Diluted compost tea works ok as a supplemental form of fertilizer but the benefit all depends on the quality of the compost. There are many organic feeding options available and since you'll need something for later after first fruit set and at least a couple of times later in the season you'll likely want to explore those options now. Why not ask over on the Organic Gardening forum for their recommendation or check out the Earth Juice products, the Espoma line of products, Gardens Alive, etc. Just Google 'organic garden fertilizers' for lots of leads.

Dave

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 11:39PM
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taz6122(N.W. AR.6b)

Don't put them in the sun with those bottles on them unless you want baked tomato plants.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 11:50PM
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tastytravels(8)

Thanks for the info folks. Betsy, I started them in starter mix with a heat mat. I just transplanted them to larger containers last week, leaving about 2 plants per container into a mixture of potting soil and compost. This week I sacrificed seedlings and left just one plant per pot. Again they only have 1 set of true leaves but seem to be doing better with all of the above and the mini greenhouses I've managed to construct out of desperation. Maybe I'll plant 1 in the garden and see how it does before sacrificing the rest.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 1:34AM
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laura21774(7 Central/Western MD)

Are they getting enough light? Thats the only other thing I can think of. I'd say harden em off and get them into the garden where they can have enough sun.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 2:11AM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

I just transplanted them to larger containers last week, leaving about 2 plants per container into a mixture of potting soil and compost.

Was that potting soil or soiless potting medium? If the mix actually contained soil, that may be the problem, it is too heavy for container usage as it does not drain well in containers. (It works well to amend soil with since contact with native soil will usually provide sufficient drainage.)

I think if you harden them off without the mini-greenhouses and get them into the garden, they will be fine.

Betsy

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 10:02AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I just transplanted them to larger containers last week, leaving about 2 plants per container into a mixture of potting soil and compost.

Again I agree with Betsy that that is the likely source of your problems IF it was potting soil.

More importantly, using compost as a nutrient source requires time to provide nutrients to plants - lots of time. The soil bacteria have to first digest/work on the compost for it to feed anything. So there has not been nearly enough time for it to feed them anything.

And if it wasn't soil mixed with the compost then there wasn't any bacteria in it - so no nutrients for the plants.

I understand that you want to grow organically. That's fine. I do much of it myself. But first you have to understand how organic gardening works. It is an excellent long term process for gardening but with a limited role in growing transplant seedlings and definitely not a quickie fix approach. ;)

Dave

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 10:37AM
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tastytravels(8)

Thanks for your advice. I planted a sacrifical lamb of each type (roma and Oregon Spring) today. I'll see what happens to them.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 8:24PM
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