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How To Win Those Bragging Rights for the Earliest Ripe Tomato

I’m 72 years old and I’ve been involved in gardening and horticulture all my life, but I am absolutely certain that every newcomer or veteran gardener has his or her own recipe to make sure they have the earliest vine-ripened tomato in the neighborhood. It’s almost like this trait instantly appears in the genetic background of every gardener, young or old. If you’re interested, I’d like to share some of those early-tomato recipes with you, as well as describe some of our special tool offerings, designed to achieve this goal.

I know a Massachusetts biodynamic farmer who says if you regenerate your soil life—microbes, earthworms, phytonutrients, etc.—according to nature’s standards and don’t use chemical pesticides and fertilizers; you can direct seed your tomatoes on five-foot spacing in warm soil at normal transplanting time. He has recorded evidence that he will have direct-seeded, vine-ripened tomatoes at the same time as using his pre-germinated transplants side by side, while boasting of increased yields for direct-seeding overall.

However, most of the gardeners I know like to pre-germinate their seeds in trays with bottom heat 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting time, and that is why you will need one of our very popular Seedling Heat Mat Systems to easily achieve your seed germination needs. These thermostatically-controlled mats automatically warm seeds and seedlings 10-20 degrees above room temperature to a maximum of 85 degrees F.

Germination trays are placed directly on the waterproof mats, and instructions are printed on the mats for easy reference. Our mat systems are designed to accommodate four, two or single trays depending on your germination needs. Trays can be utilized with our 72-cell inserts to be filled with well-drained seed germination soil mixes or with our famous Jiffy-7 Peat Pellets, compressed units of potting soil, peat pot and a little fertilizer that expand into shape when watered.

Most gardeners will want to complete the system with clear plastic humidity domes that fit tightly over the trays to hold in heat and humidity for more rapid and even germination. One of our latest kit offerings—the Germination Station with Extra-Tall Humidity Dome—identical to our One-Tray Germination System with Heat Mat, but featuring the addition of a tall, 7-inch humidity dome “to allow seedlings to stay inside a warm, humid environment for much longer to get taller and more robust.” You will want to browse all our various germination kit combinations and other useful tools to fulfill your gardening needs.

Remember that all –pre-germinated seedlings need to be removed from these systems and “hardened off” at least a week prior to transplanting outside in the garden or into containers. This can be accomplished by placing the flats in an outside environment protected from the wind for several hours in a semi-shaded area at first, and gradually increasing the time of exposure and amount of direct-sunlight hours over the transition period. If night temperatures are expected below 40 degrees F., and there is a danger of frost, trays should be moved back indoors at night for protection. Be sure to keep the mature seedlings watered well to prevent serious wilting and plant damage while hardening off.

I knew one veteran gardener that wanted his hardened-off seedlings ready in one-gallon containers (to prevent root constriction) in mid-March, which is quite early for transplanting to the garden here in South Carolina. His secret recipe was a wooden-box frame, about two-feet square, to which he stapled burlap on all four sides for wind and cold protection. He added a burlap cover for the top that could be flipped back in the day time to let more light in and flipped back at night to insure frost would not form on the plants.

Another of our local gardeners, who always had a huge vegetable garden for eating fresh and preserving food for his large family, also wanted his tomato transplants ready for planting in late March. His recipe was to use a middle-buster plow to open a very deep trench in early March, then cover the trench with clear plastic, with soil moved back to seal off one side and the other side held down with weights to keep it in place. The plastic allowed the sunlight through to raise the soil temperature and hold the heat in at night. In a few weeks, he was ready to pull back the plastic and plant his hardened-off tomato seedlings. After planting, he would pull back the plastic during the day to allow warming sunlight in and replace it at night when necessary for insulation and frost protection.

Both these gardeners were quite successful most years, and it was just a friendly competition to see who picked that first vine-ripened tomato to win the boasting rights until the next growing season. Perhaps you have your own successful recipe that you would like to share, and we would be happy to post it on our Greenroom site. Sharing ideas is what makes gardening the most widespread and loved hobby in the world!

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