Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day reminds me of.... Tomatoes!

What's red that you think of on Valentines Day? - Hearts? Roses? Not Me! Valentine's Day makes me think of Tomatoes!

Early Tomatoes to be exact.

Around here, folks use holidays as reminders of when to do things in the yard and garden. They say to set out peas and potatoes on St. Patrick's Day, set out tomatoes and peppers on Mother's Day, open your pool on Memorial Day and close that pool on Labor Day. Call me strange, but I add "start tomato seeds on Valentine's Day" to that list.

Last year, I started extra-early tomatoes with the goal of getting ripe ones by my birthday on June 24th. I actually picked the first ripe red tomato on June 15th!

This year I'm putting more work into it and setting the goal at May 31st. If I'm really lucky, I could have a ripe tomato by Memorial Day!

How do I plan to achieve this here in Northern Zone 5 where most ripe tomatoes are harvested in Late July and early August? Much like I did last year by planting early under grow lights and potting up multiple times until I transplant the monster-huge tomato plants outdoors in April. What I will add to the strategy this year involves the outdoor planting site. I will put down black plastic to warm the soil, and I will wrap the new plants with plastic cages and possibly construct a temporary hoop house over the early plants.
I will let you know all the details in these pages as we go along.

Last year, my extra-early tomato plats were the Early Girl variety. They did well but this year I will be planting 4 other extra early varieties to give Early Girl a run for the money!

The GardenDesk newcomers are: Hybrids New Girl and Orange Blossom from Johnny's Selected Seeds and Heirlooms Siletz and Sub-Artic "World's Earliest" from Baker Creek. Both of these companies are amongst my favorites. More details to come!

Getting back to Valentine's Day - before I get any angry email accusing me of not being a romantic, I want to state that I DID give my wife and daughters the real red of Valentine's Day - Roses.

Now they will lovingly let me start tomatoes tonight! Yum!



Did i read that right? Tonight you will plant the seeds?. Oh man!, I started them yesterday thinking that you already started them.

you see, you are the main reason of my inspiration to start tomato seeds early. I saw your sucess that I was dying to give it a try.

The type i planted was "Tomato 4th of July Hybrid" by Burpee's.

They claim I can start getting tomatoes within 49 DAYS!. So if I read this right I should be able to get tomatoes by late March!.

Well, i got trouble ahead, because all i have is a 8" wide x 4'-0" long 40 watts (2 bulbs) fluorescent work light fixture i hang the same way you did.

So that means It is problably enough light for the vegetative stage but not for the flowering & fruit stage.

Any input is apreciated in what to do when this plants start flowering.

I really will hate to buy an extra light.


Sounds like a plan to me Marc. I used to always start my Tomatoes on Feb 14th. Now I wait till march 1 to start them. Mostly cause I'm lazy and don't want to re pot them.


Aren't tomatoes also called 'Love Apples'?
Good pick for Vday :)


You're crazy. You're also my hero but I still think you're crazy. :)

What happens if you get tomatoes by May 31st? Will you plant your seeds next year on New Year Eve? This is madness! When will it end?


johnnathan - you are too kind. You actually inspired me as well. On the way home yesterday, I picked up the Burpee 4th 0f July Tomato seeds to add to the race for the earliest tomato. I don't know if it is too early for you or not. It depends on when you plan to put the plants outside. Normal advice says to wait until the danger of frost is over in your area. Where I live, that is the middle of May. If you live further south, maybe that date is sooner. The real game with early tomatoes is to figure out how early to put them outside without freezing them. I will be adding multiple levels of protection around them this year when they go outside in April. If you are planning to grow them to maturity inside, you are right that you do not have enough light. The tomato plants will probably not fruit in the advertised 49 days if the light conditions are not right or if the roots do not have enough room. If you do want to try for ripe tomatoes inside, you need to transplant multiple times to larger pots, have plenty of space, and as much light as possible - maybe even by utilizing windows AND grow lights together. Just to keep my plants growing well inside, I like to have three light fixtures wide for every two rows of flats - not the normal one light fixture width per flat that light stands you can buy usually come with. Good luck with your early 4th of Julys! If you want to discuss it further, feel free to email me at

curtis - thanks for the encouragement. You are right, the re-potting is a lot of work.

wiseacre - great point! I wish I had remembered that to include in the post.

And Anthony - being called crazy from you is a compliment. Thank you! If I could figure out how to do it, I would grow tomatoes year round!

New Year's Eve is a good possibility for next year. :)


I start my tomatoes in a heated propagator in the greenhouse in January. It is always a challenge keeping them warm without getting leggy. It is usually the smaller cherry types that ripen first. I can't wait for my first one!


So cute....


My last two years crops of tomatoes have failed, I had disease the first time and last year I went away and we had a really hot few days which killed the plants because they were left un watered (my fault), this year I am expecting good things.

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