Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Surprised By Tomato Sprouts!

Surprised by Sprouts!
It all started when I decided to learn how to save tomato seeds. I even photographed several of the steps to show the process on GrandBob's Garden.
After several successful attempts of preparing the seeds and finally putting them in small plastic bottles to keep till about February - When to start Tomato's here in Southern Kansas for safe Mid-May transplanting into the garden - I forgot the largest batch of "Pinks" I had prepared yet. There they sat on my bookshelf happily (I assume) fermenting in their little plastic juice bottles I had specially prepared. This process should take about 4 days or so. The fermentation process not only cleans the pulp from the seeds, it also allows them to sprout easily when You plant them. And then a Senior Moment. Or maybe a Senior Week! I forgot all about them. When I finally happened to glance at the bookshelf I had set them on, safely away up high so my cat Squeek couldn't accidentally knock them over; I remembered them. I jumped up and grabbed the bottle and there they were. Probably 300 plus seeds sprouting like crazy in the fermentation water.
What to do. What to do. Even though I had saved about 100 Pink seeds successfully so far which were safely packed away (Now where did I put them...);
I just couldn't flush them down the drain. Could you? It seemed like plant murder to me! So, I decided to try to get them to grow in a small tv tray of light soil mix and treat them as if it was February. Soon they were coming up all over in the little tray. Some only Millimeters apart. I had to get them space to grow. Quickly!
It was then that I got a plastic Dollar Store shoebox, burned some drain holes in the bottom with a hot nail, put about 2 inches of prepared soil that I had carefully dampened and started the transplant process of about 250 (by now) tiny tomato seedlings about 1-1/2 inch tall.
As you probably know, tomato seedlings of this are are very delicate but believe it or not pretty strong. These were just putting out their first false leaves - or Dicotyledons. The first leaves to help give the tiny plants their growing boost. They are just 2 simple shaped leaves and are just about the first thing out of the ground. Later on, when their job is finished, they will fall off and a real leaf will replace it. In the picture above you are mostly seeing Dicotyledons, and you might also be able to discern a few with real leaves forming.
Anyway, I poked holes about 1 inch apart in the shoebox. Then using an old spoon, I dumped out about 4 or 5 tiny plants on a sheet of paper. carefully separated the tangled roots from each other with a toothpick. I shaved one end like a tiny shovel and carefully grabbed a plant by one ear (dicotyledon) and moved it over to the shoebox then carefully let the root down into the hole previously prepared for it. Using a Bick Pen cap, I gently pushed the soil over the root and tamped it down with a lead pencil. Blunt end down. While still holding the plant by one "Ear". A tedious process. I put them under my desk lamp for about 12 to 16 hours a day, and let them "sleep" in the closet underneath my wife's favorite camouflage pants about 8 hours a day. They seemed to like it there.
They have prospered so far. Maybe a little leggy -as you see in the picture today. It's transplant time again. I'm down to about 200 tomatoes as of now. They are getting their second leaves and I will put them in small Dixie cups with holes to provide drainage and a more denser soil. With about 1/3 perlite, 1/3 composted plant matter - finely sifted, and 1/3 cheap potting soil. I will bury as much of the stem as possible perhaps leaving only an inch sticking out. Will tiny seedlings grow roots from the stem like larger plants? We'll find out, I guess. The plan is to then put them in a small slatted tray I can carry around. Maybe 2 trays that I still need to make. Then set them in my cool garage -to slow down their growth (and perhaps strengthen them and give them plenty of overhead light for several hours a day.
Will that Work?
I found that a large 2ft x 2ft x 2ft heavy cardboard box can be turned into a cold garage greenhouse. I provided heat through the night by filling 4 -2 liter water bottles with Hot Water and inserting them along with the plants. During the day, I set them outside for daylight and fresh air in the same box. Even in frigid weather. I used just the water bottles, the cardboard box (front cut to an angle, plus some old, unused window plastic and the secrets of Solar Heating. I have pictures showing it setting outside in the sun on a table with snow around its feet. I couldn't believe it myself. A cardboard greenhouse. How cheap can you get! And it actually worked!
The attached garage was never heated directly. A few times it fell below freezing but the tomato plants survived in the cardboard box and were successfully planted in May last year flourishing to production. If there is any interest, I will post that story as well as how to save tomato seeds later - with pictures on how to do it. Readers. If you would like that. Let me know!
As to the Surprise Seedling Tomatoes. Will they make it to May set-out time? Stay tuned to this station...

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