starting tomato seeds in a raised bed

Helena, MT

After watching a French 1940’s B&W film about germinating tomato seeds in a hot bed I have been giving some thought to trying this in a covered raised bed. The concept is called ‘French Intensive Gardening’. You first start with a layer of fresh manure, then an upper layer of compost. The seedlings should be hardened off when you transplant them which cuts out an intermediate step. The transplating part of the film showed the farmer grabbing bunches of six inch plants from the bed, none to gently, and using a wooden gun shaped dowel, he went down the rows quickly planting each seedling maybe a foot apart.

When he planting the seeds the farmer broadcasted hundreds of seeds over the bed and gently worked them into the top layer by hand producing a jungle of seedlings. No more peat pots, flats, plant shelves, and artificial lighting.

Another thing which occurred to me was timing. The seedlings germinate when conditions are favorable and by the time they reach a size favorable to transplanting weather conditions should be about right. Clouching may still be required with our fickle weather, but I would think that this method of starting seedlings would be more in tune with climatic conditions than basing your transplanting schedule on the weatherman.

I would like to know if anyone has tried something similar to this, or any suggestions which would be helpful.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I haven't tried, but here is my paranoia about covered seedlinbg beds or cold frames. Or a covered "hot frame", which this technically is.

If I leave the lid down or the plastic film closed when I go to work, and THEN the sun comes out and hits the frame, it will prob ably cook before I get home. Or make the seedlings so comfy that they will need to be hardened off before the next time I do pop the lid all the way.

Some late winter months can be much warmer than other early spring months.
And any clear day (though rare) might drive up the air temp in a tunnel by ?? 30-40 degrees ??

What prevents this?

- a heat-sensitive automatic opener?

- ALWAYS open the frame or hoop tunnel at least a little even if it is a cold, cloudy, windy morning?

- put the frame in the shade so it is always uniformly cold?


Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

What is being asked here is similar to what I was usually talking about as to temperature as optimal growth time Most of us get very little time for optimal growth of our tomato plants.
If you have or find plants that adapt to the technique as to your climate it works very well as a process. Only it is not as easy to have what you want as a plant that is adapted ideally to you climate.
Some take a wide variance in temperatures with no damage ,and as you know many others do not.This ends here as intensive gardening is a really good technique when it works ,only not all plants adapt well to the process.

Sierra Foothills, CA(Zone 8a)

The wintersowers also sow their seeds early, not necessarily winter, but early spring, before they would be ready to plant out if you had some indoors.

I am thinking of doing it this winter and early spring and see what method is better.

Helena, MT

Fortunately I have the luxury of being available 24/7 so cracking open the cover once the day time temperatures begin to climb is not a problem. As for backup plants I typically have as many as three flats of Stupice tomatoes with seeds planted about two weeks apart. I have learned the hard way that late freezes here are generally the norm. Since this is an experiment I still plan on doing the three flats (18 plants/flat) of Stupice at two week intervals which will be placed in covered cages. If the experiment works I plan on sprawling these plants.

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

I've seen the same film and looked at it several times and here's a few comments about it.

THe plants were severely pruned to almost dwarf size, and several times at that.

back in the early 40's there weren't the methods that are used today although I admit that the French tend to do things differently, but other Frenchmen at the time were growing their tomatoes almost as we do today and I know that b'c the film was the lead post in a thread and there were lots of responses,

Also, I don't think you can compare your MT growing zone and conditions with what was shown in that film.

I was raised on a farm in a zone 5 area and the first tomato plants to go out were started inside in wooden boxes that my father made over the winter. They were then transplanted, at least some of them, to deep soil inside the greenhouse and others were transplanted to those same flats but now at a distance apart.

But the ones to go out in the field later were DIRECT seeded outside and the the plants were pulled as you saw in the film, gently separated, getting the weeds out, packed in bushel baskets sideways, covered with wet burlap bags and taken out to the plant setter.

No fuss, no muss, so maybe consider doing what we on the farm did all those years ago.

Consider raising your earliest plants to go out inside and then direct seed the later ones to go out.


Helena, MT

I've never heard of direct seeding here in the valley. In fact I have only heard of one other gardener who raised tomatoes outdoors. People have come by just to see how we raised our tomatoes in covered cages and were surprised that we were able to get a decent production at all. Hoop houses are the common method of raising tomatoes here, and gardens don't go in until after June 15th and are completed around August 15th, so cage covers are essential to raising tomatoes without a hoop house.

My attempt at sprawling tomatoes this year may be a disaster. I am still looking at hundreds of green tomatoes and I'm forced to cover them with a painters tarp (14 mil plastic) about every night now. By recovering cages I can get through September possibly, but even that's a crap shot.

I was wondering about the zone comparisons, but comparing my 4B to other zones similarly labeled doesn't seem to work either.

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