Tending Tomato Seedlings

Some of you may have taken my advice and planted tomatoes indoors under grow lights and heat lamps.  A word of caution: do not let your heat lamps be too close to your seedlings, as they can burn them.  Today, I raised my heat lamps to over three feet above the seedlings, as I noticed the seedlings were starting to show some damage.

Keep the Grow Lights Close to the Plants

Unlike the heat lamps, the grow lights need to be as close to the seedlings as possible without touching them, as the seedlings need the intense light.  If your seedlings have to reach toward the light, they will get a bit “leggy” that is– long in the stem.  If they do, you can transplant the seedlings into another pot.  Plant them deeply, so that the dirt hills up around the stem very high.  This encourages the stem to form new root systems that stabilize your plants.  As your seedlings grow, you can raise the grow lights with them.

Tomatoes actually like to be transplanted a number of times, as it prunes the root systems and encourages healthy growth.  Peppers can also be transplanted a number of times, but I don’t think they will root from the stem like tomatoes do.

Rotate Your Plants

It is important to rotate your plants in relation to the light. You may have noticed your plants bending toward the light.  That is because plants are phototrophic, which is just a way of saying that plants grow toward light.  If you don’t rotate them, the seedlings will bend only in one direction; by turning them, you help the seedlings to be straighter.

Fertilize Your Seedlings

Your seedlings will need a bit of fertilizing every 7-14 days.  You can use any kind of fertilizer you like.  I am just using an inexpensive commercial fertilizer.  Be sure to follow the directions carefully, because too much can “burn” your plants by giving them too much nitrogen to process all at once.  Also, don’t encourage too much leafy growth because, later on, that will diminish the amount of actual tomatoes  the plant makes.  It takes a bit of getting used to and getting the knack.  A little does it.


Watering Seedlings

 Seedlings are in such small amounts of soil that they dry out easily.  You will need to check on them 2-3 times a day. Tomato and pepper plants need the soil to dry out a little between watering, but don’t let them get bone dry either, so that the plants wilt.  This, again, is a learned balancing act.  Don’t let your plants sit in standing water, or let the soil be soggy.  You should probably mist your seedlings occasionally to provide some humidity.  You don’t want the leaves to be too wet all of the time, though, as that encourages disease.

Is it a Good Idea to Leave the Grow Lights on at Night?

When I first wrote this blog, I did not recommend leaving the grow lights on at night.  However, the next year I left the lights on 24/7 and the plants were stockier and healthier, so I have changed my mind on that issue. 

If I knew I would be gone overnight, I would  turn off the heat lamps, but leave the grow lights on.  I think it is safer to leave the heat lamps off, if you won’t be home for a day or so. 

Of course, if my plants were in an unheated greenhouse, I would leave the heat lamps on.  One must use common sense here.  Please don’t let electrical cords be in water, or leave heat lamps where they could start a fire.  Perhaps it’s a good idea to have two sets of heat lamps so that you can alternate them.  One set can cool off for awhile when you use the other set.

Keeping Track

Finally, it is a good idea to start a garden journal.  Mine is really a dated series of brief entries, saying what I planted when, any important observations, etc.  I have to keep it brief, as I do other types of writing.  Why keep a garden journal?  You will find that you consult your journal from year to year on questions such as Did this variety of tomato do well last year?  When was the last frost?  Did we have snow in April?  How long did it take for the peppers to germinate?  I neglected keeping a garden journal for years, thinking that I would surely remember such simple things, but no.  These things seem obvious this season, and hazy by next spring.  And trust me, every year is different.  You may need to know what you did last year, and if that worked for you.

You may choose to make your garden journal artistic.  Some people have even published their garden journals.  I have seen them for sale in bookstores.  You may include drawings, reflections on nature, observations of wildlife, and as many embellishments as you like.  You might even choose the scientific route, experimenting with any number of aspects.  These garden journals are great for children, too.  They are a great opportunity to practice art, writing and science skills.  But that is material for a future blog, I now see.

However you choose to go about documenting your garden experience this year, I wish you success.   I will post again soon.  Until then, may your fingers be happy in the soil.

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