You will also need to know the Growing Zone or Hardiness Zone for
your zipcode which can be found here,
or with a more exact map here.
There are many ways to start tomato seeds but we'll show you this
one since it's easy and the germination rate is 96 percent. The
simplest way to start your seeds is with peat pellets and greenhouse
domes like the two pictured below. These are sold about anywhere
that seeds and vegetable gardening supplies are sold.
In the first image, the peat pellet as it comes compressed.
The one on the right has been hydrated with water and
expands on it's own.
|Four hydrated peat
pellets in their tray with San Marzano seeds visible in
the top two. I use the tip of my pocket knife to pull back
the soil 1/4 inch. One seed in each pellet is enough.
The peat pellets in their tray. Trays come in many different
clear plastic top acts like a greenhouse by keeping the
seeds/pellets warmer than room temperature. Condensation
will also build up on the inside. The "climate"
inside is "warm & muggy" even if you are
starting in Feb.
7 to 10 days, your tomato seeds will sprout. Germination
rate with peat pellets is pretty good, and it's only necessary
to plant one seed in each pellet.
The greenhouse tray must then sit in your window
that get's the most light. If you live in the Northern states
that don't get enough Sun during the first 8 weeks, you may
need to get a growlight. However, if you are just a beginner,
you may not want to invest that much money at first.
LEFT:The seedlings pictured here in front of the window
are approx. 2 weeks old. I like to let them grow a bit
too long in their pellets so I can plant them DEEP. Planting
your tomatoes deep now and when transplanted outside is
very important for root development.
are transplanted into peat pots or other containers that
are 3 to 4 inches wide at the top. You must make 2 small
holes in the bottom to let water run out. Place your starters
in the window and water about every other day until they
are six weeks old.
2. Hardening off your San Marzano tomato plants:
All tomato plants started indoors (and not in a greenhouse) need
to adjust slowly to outside temperatures and breezes before transplanting.
This is called "hardening off." This is usually done April
or early May when temperatures are suitable. On Sunny with a low
breeze, place your tomato pots outside in the Sun for a few hours
during the warmest part of the day. Keep an eye on them so they
don't get damaged by the wind or temperatures. If it's too breezy,
use a windbreak or take the plant back inside, and let it get Sun
and breeze from an open window. You can also run a fan on them while
they are inside for about 1 hour per day. This will help make the
stems stronger and thicker.
3 . A common problem at this stage is tomato starters
that are too "leggy" -as in the main stem is tall but
the foliage seems sparse in comparison to it's height. This is caused
by not enough Sunlight on your young plants (if you have a top notch
greenhouse or a growlight, you will probably not encounter this
problem). Tomatoes need lots and lots of Sun from the first day
they sprout and you need to get more Sunlight on your starter if
you can . This condition is why I like to transplant my starters
at 6 weeks instead of 8, and 6 weeks is also recommended by Seed
Savers Exchange, one of the best gardening organizations in the
world. As discussed above, I plant my seeds on March 1st so they
will be 6 weeks old on April 15th when I transplant them.
4. Soil Preperation: With an eye toward transplanting
the San Marzano tomato starter outside on April 15th (which is suitable
for my growing zone & may be different than yours), the next
step is to prepare our container. Since most San Marzano's are indeterminate
plants (vines, over 6ft tall, and produce fruit all season long),
it's advisable to grow them in a container 10 gallons or more. A
5 gallon bucket is undersized for an indeterminate tomato, and better
suited for a determinate cultivar. At the bottom of your 10 gallon+
container, drill 2 holes, on opposite ends, using a 3/8 inch drill
bit, to allow water to flow out.
The trend in gardening these days seems to be to over-complicate
the soil mixture. While this might be fine for an experienced gardener,
beginners should keep it simple. To this end, keep your mixture
at 1/3 organic matter, and 2/3rds top quality organic soil sold
in 1 to 1.5 cubic foot bags under the brand names of Scott's, Miracle
Gro, and Schultz. This soil is a higher quality than regular, plain
top soil which is priced much cheaper. If you do use regular top
soil, use 1/2 organic matter, and 1/2 regular top soil. Suitable
organic matter, also sold in 1 to 1.5 cubic foot bags, includes:
Peat moss, Manure, and Compost of various origins.
Besides the organic ammendments and soil, you'll also need
to mix in 1 to 2 cups of garden lime for a 10 gallon container.
Agricultural lime is calcium carbonate which will be necessary
later on to prevent blossom rot, also called bottom end rot.
Blossom end rot is caused by a lack of calcium getting to
the fruit. It is much easier to prevent blossom end rot when
preparing your soil, than it is to fix it after it spoils
your tomatoes. Instead of garden lime, you can also use crushed
Combine and mix the soil and ammendments together thoroughly.
5. Ideal ph levels for tomatoes are between 5.8
to 7. Inexpensive ph meters are sold in most garden stores. You
can raise ph levels with wood ash or agricultural lime, and lower
it with organic matter.
6. Transplant your 6 week old San
Marzano tomato starter when nighttime temperatures
are above 55 degrees and a week or two after the last frost
for your growing zone. Dig a hole in the center of your container
with a handsize garden shovel.
Toss in a teaspoon tomato or vegetable fertilizer pellets
(if desired), or non-fresh horse manure, and a few crushed
eggshells into the hole that you've made. Carefully seperate
the tomato from the container and place it into the hole.
(If you are using peat pots, like the one at right, they can
break apart easily and are biodegrable and you can leave the
pieces in the hole.
Watch the weather for the next couple of weeks and if temperatures
look like they will drop below 55 degrees, cover your tomato
or move the container inside your garage or shed until the
7. A tomato cage or support system will have to
be put in place immediately after you transplant your San Marzano
starter. It's better to put it in now when the tomato roots are
small, then later on when the roots cover more area and you have
to slide it over the tomato plant. Since most San Marzano tomatoes
are indeterminate, the simple tomato cages seen here [Picture Coming
Soon] are going to be too small. Indeterminate means vines, not
a small bush determinate, and vines can easily grow 6 to 8 feet
tall or taller. There are many different styles of cages
that you can use, but make sure you get one that is tall enough
and strong enough to support a tall tomato plant.
8. Lots of Sunlight: Tomatoes thrive on 3 things:
Water, organic matter and Sunlight. After you have transplanted
your starter into a 10+gallon size container, and installed your
stake or cage, get your tomato plant in the area of the yard where
it will get the most Sunlight for at least 8 hours a day, and 12
hours a day is fine too. The nice thing about growing in containers
is you can move your plant around if you have to.
9. Container grown tomatoes will need to be watered
more than those grown in the ground since their root system is more
susceptable to heat and dehydration from the Sun hitting the outside
of the container. When it comes to watering container grown tomatoes,
keep these 3 rules in mind:
- Always water at the base, directly on the soil, and never on
the leaves or upper stem.
- Water gently and not with a high pressure as this could damage
the roots and splash soil based diseases onto the bottom level
- Water once a day, in the morning, and until the container fills
to the top with water and it's running out of the holes in the
bottom - then stop.
10. Mulch and monitor the moisture when the weather
is hotter. Mulch basically means a layer of organic
matter (pine needles, wood chips), inorganic matter (plastic,
landscape fabric) or rocks which keep the roots and soil cool,
and prevents soil based diseases from splashing upwards. Mulch
also slows down the evaporation rate and keeps the moisture
in the soil longer. Personally, I prefer to use white quartz
river rock as this has kept my soil moist for 24 hours and
in temperatures in the 80s when the outside temp was 100 degrees.
Moisture meters like the one shown above
help monitor your plant's watering needs. A meat thermometer
with at least a 5 inch stem stuck into the soil will help
you monitor the temperatures for your tomato's roots. When
temperatures get above 90 degrees, fruit production begins
to drop off dramatically. It is the temperature of the roots,
and not the leaves and stems, that matters more.
Fertilizer, Compost Tea & Rainwater
11. After a few weeks, your San Marzano tomato plant should be doing
pretty good on it's own. It is recommended that you fertilize your
tomato plant once a week with tomato fertilizer or vegetable fertilizer.
Look for some at your garden supply store. You can also make a compost
tea by allowing organic matter, either compost or manure, to sit
and mix for awhile in a bucket of water. I prefer 5 gallon buckets
filled with rain water. (By the way, rain water is always 10x better
than garden hose water). Compost tea is more organic and environmentally
friendly. If rain is in the forecast, place as many buckets and
containers outside to catch as much rainwater as possible and use
them. Pond water and well water is good too.
12. When your San Marzano tomato starts to get about 2 to 3 feet
tall, you will need to prune it in order to send the sugars and
nutrients to the places you want, and keep them away from areas
where they will do no good. I could tell you how to prune your tomato
but I found a webpage
that explains it better than I could and they have some nice diagrams
and a video.
And finally, if all goes
well, your San Marzano tomato plant should be producing ripe
fruit in 78 to 85 days after you transplanted it. Maturation
dates are always based on when the plant is transplanted,
and not when the seeds are started.
Consult our tomato sauce,
pizza sauce, and marinara
sauce videos to learn how to get the most out of your
ripe San Marzano tomatoes this season and don't forget to
follow along with our 2010
growing journal as we show you how we will grow the San
Marzano 2 in a container.
Please don't copy
my article without a link/credit. Thanks.