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Tomatoes. When.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

I promised myself I would not do this. I was not going to grow toms from seed again until I had a good set up for it.

so much for promises.

My question is, starting seed indoors (and without a bunch of fancy lights and that) how soon should I plant the seeds? Once there are true leaves I will do some other mess, like arrange them in a tray I can move around into sun and even outside if it is a warm day.......

so the questions are, when to start seeds? and, when do you plant out?


Thumbnail by Kylaluaz
Cedarhome, WA(Zone 8b)

I have had horrible luck trying to start them from seed, I don't have a greenhouse, and don't have any particular hankering for one. On the other hand, I am more interested in the varieties only found in seed, not at the local nurseries as starts. So... I would like to winter sow mine, if that works. Any pointers on timing for that?

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

I did wintersow some toms a couple years ago I believe..... but that was in a whole different climate. Getting the seeds to germinate is not the problem really, it is how to get them enough sun and warmth after that and for long enough before they need to go in the ground. though I do understand they need a period of cool temps to flourish!

I may be answering my own question, sorta, as I could probably start seeds anytime, as long as I am prepared to nursemaid them once they've sprouted.

the year I did it so successfully, I had two windows, one facing east and one west, and the seedlings on trays I moved back and forth each day. Here the east window is not going to be useful probably so they will only get the western sun, that window is good..... and then outside on good days. just like little babeez.

Anyway, if you are doing true wintersowing and not planning to bring stuff inside, probably March is the soonest to start tenders like toms....

When do people around here plant out tomatoes? where I was before there was a clear guideline that had nothing to do with when it felt like spring (because it could hard freeze in a flash and often did) but I bet they could go in earlier hereabouts...


Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

I'm far from the best tomato grower around here, but I can give you a bit of an answer. It doesn't make sense to put stuff out too early because the soil is slow to warm up and we can still have pretty cool nights-and days. Most folks don't really plant them out until May or so-they just sort of sit there if they go out much earlier. They just look cold, sad & forlorn.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Well, thanks, that is a help! That's around when we could plant them out down in Weed (CA) too, but it usually ended up being quite late in May.....

So I figure if I start seeds in March and keep them mostly inside from then on, given enough sunlight (which is the nursemaid part, carrying them around and such) they should be ready to go out in May sometime......

(edit) OR alternatively, wintersow them in March....... But with tomatoes I like to do the thing of transplanting at least twice to bury the stems and strengthen the root system, before planting out, so wintersowing wouldn't really let me do that part.....

This message was edited Jan 19, 2011 10:41 PM

Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

May tends to be really variable here. :) Some years it's wonderful, others it's cold and wet, so it's a play it by ear sort of thing. To give you another idea, the old-time "rule" about hanging annual baskets around here is to hang them on Mother's Day...so... Of course, that also helps sell lots of big hanging baskets, so maybe a bit of skepticism is warranted there, lol.

I'd guess the transition down in Weed was a bit more abrupt than here-once it starts to warm up down there the altitude & lots of sun probably helps things along. (I've stopped in Weed a couple of times on my way to or from trips in CA. As a gardener, I sort of felt it was mandatory, lol....)

Tomatoes are very good at catching up quick once it warms up, so experiment a little to see what works best. I've never lived on Whidbey, I don't have any good local knowledge for you, but it sounds like your plan is very workable. :)

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Well, in Weed we had to wait til the snow melted off of Black Butte. It could be hot but if there was still white showing on Black Butte, it was too early. And a lot of that was because the soil was still too cool..... but it was a real clear sign!

Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

Wow, that is a clear sign. That's pretty great, really. I'd like to have a sign that clear... :)

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

yeah, it was quite helpful. :)

Union, WA(Zone 8b)

Sow in later March and set out later May. Too late is better than too early. You can bury the stems when you set them outside. I use an umbrella over mine if it is rainy or cold after set-out. 60-70 days is all the days we get for ripening. Small sizes are best.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Thank you so much. I have chosen short season varieties, except I got real excited about a cherry tomato mix that may be not so short, but oh well....... some self indulgence is healthy.

An umbrella, eh? I shall have to think about creating a tomato shelter. I fear a simple umbrella here would be taken by the wind rather soon....... Hmmmmmmmm........

Lake Stevens, WA

Cisco Morris gave a very good talk on tomatoes last spring at the UW shopping center.

He likes Stupice, med., Sungold and Sungella, Small Just a few names he droped and I tried.

He said to start them in six packs. Then when they out grow that plant in a 4inch pot, Then went they out grow that put in gal. size. Every time you change pots leave just the leaves sticking out of the soil. This gives you a very sturdy plant.
Makes sence? I start mine in March too
My rule of thumb is never plant out before Mothers day, annuals or toms. In fact I think Memorial day is best for toms. Mother nature likes to play tricks with the sun here.

I had more than we could eat last summer.
I have them on a west facing wall. They also get warmth from the foundation and protection from rain as they are covered by the eaves.

my 2 cents

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Even better, thanks! Being new around here I have just discovered who Cisco is (like, a couple days ago heard of him for the first time)

that thing you describe of repotting and burying up to the top leaves, yes, that is what I do. And Stupice is the slicing tom I chose, at this moment cannot recall the others, not that many but my notes are across the room.... but I did think about ripening time each time, so fingers crossed!

Interesting about the west wall....... How many hours of sun do they get? I might just put some in front (west) to try that......

Lake Stevens, WA

Not sure about amount of sun, maybe from 12 to sunset. Read some place it is the warmth that toms need not so much the sun. Anyone else read that?
I also think protection from the rain is important around here. I am no expert and i'm sure there are others out there will more ideas.

Union, WA(Zone 8b)

I put tomato cages over my tomatoes and tie the umbrella down over the top of the cage with the handle down inside the cage. This is just when they are small. Those cheap little fold up umbrellas work great. Mine are also in a brick-paved and walled courtyard facing SW

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Well, clearly I am going to have to try out a bunch of stuff and see what works here.

Meanwhile, this is an interesting bunch of thoughts and opinions about tomato growing, some of it in similar climate to here too:


Carnation, WA(Zone 7b)

we are far from really good at this yet, but we managed to raise 48 plants on site and Alex sold 40 additional plants. Froze some, ate lots, gave away the rest. Trouble with disease this past year. We've grown mostly heirloom, Indeterminates. We start all of them from seed usually end of February and set them out end of April to Mid May. We cover with plastic hoops until July and recover them end of August. We pulled plants end of October. Early to mid season ususally works best for us. We're just finishing getting our new seeds in for different varieties to try. We like the plums and hearts.... unfortunately they are more mid-late season. We'll start some from seed we saved this past year and see how they do. I have yet to get out to the seed house and get things organized for this year for the kids, they like to start stuff under the lights too but we're not heated and the water isn't on yet for the season. we'll start trays in the house and move them out when we need to up pot. Seems we start way more than we have room for here! I'd love to hear how it goes for everyone else this year... we're still learning to live in this climate.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Well, you're a heck of a lot more of an expert than I am, that's for sure! Thank you so much for those specifics. I am already cogitating on how to cover, so this does help a lot! giving those timeings....... I am pretty sure going to use clear plastic of some sort, just not sure how I will set it up.

Cedarhome, WA(Zone 8b)

After much cogitating, and despite the allure of so many tomato seed varieties, I will once again let my local organic farm start my tomatoes for me and buy their very nice seedlings in late spring.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

I may very well regret not making the same decision, but I am going to try starting some from seed........ later on. ;)

Wilsonville, OR(Zone 8b)

Hi Tia,

I have been growing tomatoes from seed successfully for years, and I would have to say that it REALLY helps having at least lights for them. Even better if you can get a heat mat.

I wrote up my procedure for tomato seeds from seed on my blog at:

Good luck with your tomatoes this year!

Keep us posted - and lets hope it's a better year for tomatoes than last year :)


(Linda)Gig Harbor, WA(Zone 8a)

I have been successful starting tomatoes in a south faceing window with bottom heat...I have been searching for years to find a tasty variety that does well in my yard..I'm surrounded by tall trees and get maybe 12 hours of sun during the solstice then rapidly declines. Last year I grew a Territorial determinate heirloom variety called silvery fir tree in a pot. It was of good flavor and ripened all its fruit and was done before any of the others (even early girl).

Kalispell, MT(Zone 4b)

We are similar to you Kyla and we have good success with cherry toms and they produce some wonderful fruit. The big toms are too difficult to pinch grow and enlarge in our limited space. So we buy the greenhouse raise plants for the larger toms. Just an idea.

Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

Silvery Fir Tree did well for me, too-and it's such a pretty plant! :) It does stay pretty small and worked well in a pot. I think I read it's originally from Siberia. I'm planning to grow it this year also.

I know everyone seems to love Early Girl, but for some reason it's just never really impressed me. It's possible I tried it as a gardening newbie way back when and didn't have good success because I didn't know what I was doing and it biased me.

I'm going to try some other Russian types this year, too, I think. They have a pretty short growing season also. The most interesting thing for me is trying at least a few different ones that are new for me every year just to see what they're like.

(Sharon)SouthPrairie, WA(Zone 7a)

I just looked back at previous years' records and have realized that NOW is the time I should be starting my seeds. Hope to get that done tonight, except for the Silvery Fir Tree ones that are still on order. I have had pretty good luck with Siletz, also a determinate, and was very happy with the Terrirorial one I got seeds for last year called Applegate. I do have the advantage of growing them over at the house in EWA, and was TOTALLY unsuccessful here on this side of the hill. Even my cherries did poorly here. Speaking of cherries, I still believe Sweet 100 to be one of the best. Any thoughts?
We definitely go for the more acidic, jucier types of tomatoes so that is a improtant criteria for us.
I have a friend in the Centralia area who has his whole tomato row protected on the windy side and on top with clear plastic and they do well for them every year, Another friend in that area puts black plastic around the base of the plants that are in black plastic pots to retain the heat.

I do believe I have heard that it is heat during the night that helps the tomatoes mature and ripen. That is where we really fall short. Any way of keeping their feet warm should be of benefit

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Ooh thanks, that silvery fir tree sounds like the ticket for sure. And bottom warming also...... well, may not manage that this year.... we'll see!

Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

Hello, everyone from WA- I guess you are all in a warmer zone than I am here in TriCities- zone 5b, I think. I did my first winter sowing this year- not a thing showing yet, but I guess since we have been freezing, that's to be expected. I don't want to rely on them, so I did some back ups in the house with bottom heat and lights. Germination is erratic, but I have been able to pot up about 18 seedlings that are the biggest. I planted Silvery Fir Tree, and have 3, Medford-3, Florida-2, Bush Early Girl, 3, Oregon Spring, 3 so far. Today I did another planting of some that haven't germinated- Hilltop, New Big Dwarf, Bush Beefsteak, and Black Krim. I had been given 4 seeds of Phoenix but unless they show up late I am outta luck. I really wanted to try them, too. Maybe my winter sown ones will grow later.

(Sharon)SouthPrairie, WA(Zone 7a)

Hi and welcome, Jo.
My vacation house is on the Potholes Reservoir near Othello, which is where I primarily grow my tomatoes. I still start all of the seeds now and try to get the plants in the ground over there mid-May. It is hard to believe that you are having germination problems.....I am of the theory that I only need to plant one extra seed for back-up and that one usually germinates too.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

sigh. still have not sowed ary a tomato seed. Too cold, too wet, but mostly too cold.

maybe this week. I do hear cherry tomatoes do well here........ my greens are going along nicely though, I will say.

one of those "wish I had a greenhouse" moments, yep.


Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

Don't feel bad-I haven't either. I've heard it's supposed to stay cool until June and it's been so cold I've held off. I also think this week, though.

Yes, greens do fabulously here with cool springs-a great consolation! Nothing compares to lettuces picked 5 minutes before dinner. :)

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I've been wishing I had a cold frame for about five years.
I've lived in WA for just over five years.
And for the first 2-3 of those years, I didn't even have a space for a garden!

I also thought that cherry tomatoes might be easier around here than big ones.

I finally bought one soil-heating pad (and 2'x2' squares of dry wall for insulation).

And I got my seed-starting mix to drain really well (lots of screened pine bark mulch, and Perlite, some small orchid bark, some very coarse vermiculite ... with hardly any of that "powdered peat" Jiffy-Mix).

Cutting the rims off my propagation (plug) and insert trays, and putting some rayon batting into the bottoms of trays, make me think that bottom-watering seed-starting trays is going to work for me this year.

Those, plus some flourescent lights, will soon tempt me to add "tomatoes" to the list of gardening challenges that already provide such a bountiful harvest of humility each year.


Richland, WA(Zone 7b)

Well, Rick, from the photos I have seen from you, you certainly have made fantastic progress in just a few years. It is obvious that you are determined to win the war against all the obstacles of gardening! Every year I have a disappointment or a failure, but you just keep trying! I just hope this wind will go away. It howled all night last night again.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

I do believe that is the main characteristic of a gardener: bone-deep stubbornness. :)

This morning I harvested nettles. I understand that simply drying them removes the "sting" (as does cooking) and that I can add them to soup and stuff after they dry and still get the mineral nourishment from them. I also intend to make sure I put a layer of them in my compost every now and again.

Taking advantage of the wealth that is here.

*thumbs her nose at tomatoes* Nyah!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Three one-quart tomato plants followed me home form a nursery last spring: I couldn't stop them. I figured I would learn something about growing them even if nothing ripened.

Lo and behold, I have been taking almost a quart of small tomatoes every week or two for a few weeks now! And I never put up a plastic tunnel.

I did carry them indoors each night for the first several weeks. Then, when they went into the soil, they just looked at me in disgust for weeks, refusing to grow until they got some warm soil. Finally the vines sprawled over a a bigger area than I could imagine, and many green marbles taunted me for weeks.

Finally, a few started ripening! Hurray! I am no longer a tomato virgin.

Sungold orange cherry and Stupice have actually given me some ripe tomatos.
"Supersweet 100" is still teasing me with green marbles and I'm about to get even by yanking it out by the roots.

Next year, to get more room for tomatoes, I may not start any annual flowers!

I have 4-5 varieties I'm thinking of putting in the soil, and wiondering what cool-climate, extra-early, compact determinate varieties might grow in pots. No part of my yard is really sunny, but there are spots that get sun part of the day.

Here are some varieties I'm thinking about, if anyone has suggestions:

* Stupice
* Glacier
* Oregon Spring
* Sungold
? Ildi yellow grape
? Sub Artic Plenty
? Early Cascade from Sequee

I have other tomato seeds as well, if anyone recomends some in particular
for short-season cool-climate and/or containers:

Golden Rave
Santa Cherry
Husky Cherry Red
Bloody Butcher
Early Girl
Early Wonder
Morden Yellow (I'm still looking for Vorlon seeds!)

Thanks in advance.


Vashon, WA(Zone 8b)

I have had good luck ripening Matina and Juliet.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Hmm, 'Juliet' I don't know.

I'll move Matina up higher on my list. But "indeterminate" makes it sound like it would not like growing in a pot, so it would have to be one of the ones that find room in a rasied bed. Would you agree with that?

My notes for Matina say:
"dependable even in cold/wet summers"
EARLY (58 days)
2-4oz red globe small salad
German Comm. Heirloom


Vashon, WA(Zone 8b)

Matina is indeterminate, so it does take up space, but if you stake and prune (which I admit I never do) it should grow in a more constrained location. The tomatoes are kind of like a small slicer and have good flavor.

Juliet is also indeterminate and is an early ripening roma tomato (60 days). I got this plant in really late this year, so it has only just started giving me ripe tomatoes in the last few weeks.

I have grown both Stupice and Sungold other years and both have done well, even with our slow-to-start Summers.

Lynnwood, WA(Zone 7a)

I started seeds early and babied them and set them out under protection when the time was right. As the summer got going and the rain ceased, seedlings galore volunteered and began fruiting as fast as the babied seeds did. I could not believe how wasted my efforts were. I got several varieties, cherries and full size, from my volunteers. That proves to me that I should just throw my seeds out there now and when the time is right they will pop up. I'm a real fan of self sowing anyway, I have carrots and chard and endive that self sow each year. It doesn't make for much order but it does seem to produce healthy plants.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I'm really impressed that you're getting ripe tomatoes from seed. Mine were shivering (well, not growing) for a month or so after I put them into the ground, and they were 12-16" tall then. If "green marbles" count, they were fruiting 5-7 weeks before I saw any ripe ones.

>> seedlings galore volunteered

Tomato seedlings volunteered outdoors without plastic cover? During this last cold spring? Wow!


Rose Lodge, OR(Zone 8b)

Tomato seedlings volunteered even in Illinois.

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