Planting Seeds Indoors: Tomatoes and Basil

A sweet little side note about our seed planting...  
Typically we splurge on Valentines Day with a really nice dinner at my favorite restaurant, "Bonefish", but this Valentine's Day we thought it would be really cool to trade in the cash spent for one lovely meal to buy all of our planting supplies and seeds that would actually feed us and others many meals. Well, that's the plan anyway.  
In our Zone 7,  I read to plant most seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost date which is April 15th this year. Yes, I realize that is also tax day. Gosh, I hope that fact doesn't jinx our green thumbs.  
So, we decided to get a bit of a head start on the 6-8 weeks just in case the seeds don't germinate and we need to start over.   But mainly just because we are so darn excited we couldn't wait another two weeks so Jay built the light stand, we rounded up an old heating pad for warmth and planting is officially ready for takeoff.  
So, here goes, our first official organic/heirloom/on a little bit larger scale seed planting adventure! Wish us luck, our future dinners are depending on it!  
DAY 1 
First of all we decided we better test the PH of our soil.  After all, it has sat all Fall and Winter after growing last years harvest.  I really have no idea, but it makes sense to us that it may not be extremely efficient.  
I would have like to see the PH marker between 6 and 7. But we will take on the 7 mark. Besides, we aren't too sure what to do to lower it at this point.  I will keep better watch on it in the actual garden space.  If this wrong, please tell me.  We are so winging this! 
Using that pretty good garden soil from last year's tomato box we filled cups almost full then planted. 
And look! We found a friend! They don't gross me out now that I have a worm farm! 
We have:
  • 12 Mortgage Lifter Tomato seed cups planted ¼" deep
  • 10 Globe Basil seed cups planted  ¼" deep
  • 10 Stevia  seed cups planted ¼" deep before we noticed the stevia  is supposed to be planted barely beneath the soil, so we tossed some more seeds on top and flipped the dirt about a bit in hopes we barely covered a few. *shrug
  •  Note, we know absolutely nothing about stevia other than it is a sweetener. So, we will have to see what comes of it in our garden and kitchen.  If you use stevia or know anything about it, please feel free to share your most coveted knowledge with us!  Otherwise, stay tuned on this one. More later. Maybe. haha
  After the soil testing, the cup filling, the seed sowing. We wet them all down good with water and placed the cups on a baking tray and placed them in the bay window under Jay's fluorescent light contraption and on top of the heating pad turned to low heat.
DAY 2-8 
We gently watered our seeds while letting the dirt dry out in between watering, just like the little seed packets instructed. We kept the florescent light on from about 6:00 a.m. until about 8:00 p.m. because that's what Roger, over at Southbranch said to do. No other reason. 
Look! We have baby tomato plants! YAY! Not every cup yet, but most every cup.  We are now confident that we at least planted the seeds correctly. 
DAY 16 - Light, Water, Watch 
Finally, the basil is beginning to show up around day 11/12 but is growing very slowly, and out of the 10 planted we only have 6 cups growing, and 2 or 3 stevia growing.  If we just get a couple thriving stevia plants I will be happy.  That's all I really want anyway.  I just don't know enough about how to use it to want much of it, plus we need the growing space.  I want more basil so I can share it with +Ann Hartle  and my sweet daughter +Sarah Elliott .  It's still a crap shoot as to the final outcome at this point. Stay tuned, and advise any way you see fit.  You know we are open for suggestions!  This is like watching a pot of water come to boil.  It seems to take forever to grow. Patience...patience. 
OH, BTW: notice the little 'maters in this pic.  At day 16 they are looking great! I am not sure when we are supposed to thin them down to just one tomato per pot though, do you?
DAY 17-25 - Continue Water and Light
These days have been pretty much mundane with fairly slow growth of the tomato plants. I say mundane with the exception of  DAY 23, which is when I watered the plant cups and noticed the basil and the stevia vanishment.  Yep, gone.  Totally.  Like little plant monsters just swooped in and nabbed them! I am so incredibly sad! I will replant them in a few days, but for now we have garden boxes to build and prepare to start preparation for the plants to go in after the last spring frost.  I read to not continuously soak the pots so the fragile roots can get some air in between waterings.  I'm just sort of eye balling it at this point.  No real formula other than once the soil appears to be totally dry I water the next morning when I turn on the fluorescent bulb above it.  We are keeping the light on for about 12-14 hours per day on most days. Is this right? guessed it, I have no clue!  But seems to be working okay at this point.   
I have been composting table scraps, yard debris, dryer lint, and a lot of other things over the winter and will use this beautifully hearty soil along with my worm castings to add to our raised organic beds.  +jason oleham built the shaker screen out of left over screening and wood from the bunny hutch build project, so to clean the compost nicely.  That was a very helpful idea! My goal is to have much more compost than this in the future. 
DAY 26 - Thinning Seedlings Day 
I have absolutely no idea how or when to thin the seedlings, I just know you are supposed to.  So if anyone has knowledge for me on this, please share in the comments on this post.  My thinning strategy is to allow to remain the one plant that is the healthiest by having more than two l
eaves on it's stem and is located away from the edge of the planting pot's edged.  Now that thinning has been performed I am hoping to get more growth out of these little 'mater buddies.  But in all honesty I don't even know that they are behind on their growth.  For all I know, this is exactly where they should be on the growth chart. hmmm...really wish I knew more planting facts, but for now, I am happy to plant by theory of common sense.  Keep your planting good luck vibes pointing our direction!  We have big plans for tomatoes around here come summer! 
DAY 32 - Getting a Little Nervous
I really wish I didn't have to report on our little tomato babies.  Yesterday we noticed we have several plants that were growing a little yellow around the gills.  Hmm...too much light? Is the heating pad too warm? Not sure, so to be safe we raised our light up a bit yesterday and went about our business since the heating pad is on it's lowest setting.  This morning when I checked on my tray of seedlings, they don't seem to be better.  In fact, I think they are worse.  What could this be? 
The other day when I came home from three days at the parents house Jay said he had not watered them while I was gone.  That was three days ago and I really socked the water to them after I got home so they would know they are still loved.  Surely they would not still be suffering the effects of dry soil.  I decided I better consult mother web, so off I went to Google.  
OH NOOOO! Leave it to PJ to love her baby maters almost to death! DANGIT! Turns out (I am pretty sure, from what I have read online) I have loved the baby maters to death with too much water.  UGH! Some are worse than others.  It seems as the bigger ones with four leaves are not as bad, but they too are even now, still growing more yellow.  
I'm thinking that since I bought some bigger plastic pots I am going to replant these little sweet little babies in them?  What to do, what to do? I at least know what not to do!  Any help would be much appreciated! 
DAY 36 - First Transplant (and none too soon)
Since I've last blogged this project, I've decided to take to the gardening community and beg for help.  I was so pleased and happy with my little maters up until they started turning yellow and withering away. Dern Ya'll, my fun little heirloom organic garden seed starting project just be became a lot less fun and more like confusing and frustrating.  So I turned to a couple of forums and found some really nice people with helpful information.  Turns out, the best thing to do was NOW. So, that is what I did.  I hope it works.  Here's the transplanting process I followed.  
After a few (ok, a few hundred) YouTube vids, I found I probably need to add perlite or vermiculite to my peat moss and compost mixture.  I decide on the perlite because that was what I found first at Martin's Garden Center, where I chose to frequent for my garden supplies.  My potting mix recipe is:
4 Parts Peat Moss
3 Parts Perlite
3 Parts Compost
I have heard to experiment with your own recipe, so that's what I did.  No, there was absolutely no science behind it other than the girl at Martin's said use a little less Perlite than Peat.  So, there, I guess that's science, right? 
So in 6" cups I filled the potting mix I had just tossed together.  Most YouTube vids suggested burrowing out a plant hole with your finger, so that's what I did.   Most of my holes ended up about 3" deep. 
I learned the stem of the plant is the most fragile, so it's necessary to take strict precaution to protect it by not pinching the stem, rather allowing the seedling to fall out of the cup carefully by flipping the cup upside down while the dirt loosens and the plant naturally falls between your fingers. I also wanted to show you how teensy the roots are.  It's very important they stay intact as well, so treat your plant outside the dirt as if it's a newborn...because it is. And do not remove the seedling until you are ready to immediately place it into it's new home.  That's the other very important aspect of the transplant.  Apparently the roots start drying out as soon as they are removed from the soil.  So that is what I did.  
I really really wanted to use my bunny's poo to fertilize these baby maters, but my gutt told me "no" since I have no idea how much poo per plant to use, how to use it, and what's even more, I do not truly know if the poo is not urine saturated.  I have learned the general consensus is bunny poo is a cold additive therefore can go strait from BunBun to the garden, but only if it is not urine saturated.  I do not thing my bunny poo is urine saturated, but I'm past a month into nurturing these baby maters so it's just not worth the risk.  That being said, once again, I followed the direction of  The Martin's Girl at got an organic fertilizer that is made mainly from alfalfa and some key minerals. The important part of this organic fertilizer is for the grains to actually touch the plant.  That is why it is necessary to burrow the hole, then put the fertilizer directly in the bottom before placing your newborn mater. 
The seedling should go deep into the hole.  You can plant right up to the bottom of the leaves because the stem will generate roots on anything below the surface.  A lot of healthy roots is what you want.  Gently push the soil into the stem of the plant just until it is tucked into it's new home nice and snug.  Give it a good swig of water. Don't over saturate it but a nice good drink is what it needs to warm back up to the new soil and to wiggle into it's comfort zone.  That is what I did.  In my 6" pot I gave about 1-2 cups of water. 
All nine newborn baby mater plants are now enjoying their new digs in fresh 6" pots, a good soil mixture, and bright light from the florescent bulbs above them as well as a boost of sunlight that floods through the bay window they have stolen from my kitchen table. 
A special "Thank YOU" to Ms. +Audra Russell and +Gary Pilarchik's videos, who encouraged me with some very helpful tips to getting these babes back up and back on their feet, along with more really exciting info about organic gardening.  Thanks Again Audra! The Hubs, +jason oleham and I appreciate you! 
DAY ??...hmm, I've lost count, but a good couple months at least.
Good grief, life so happens! Since this heirloom tomato seedling project began there has been a lot of going and coming to and from my home as I work, travel to care for The 'Rents (parents) in another state, while doing the day to days here as self employed dictates.  Needless to say, with incorporating the ideas from a few new gardening friends, and a bit of reading in between travels and work, my little 'mater plants decided to rebound in their new pots and Perlite soil additive.  Look at them now! From the 8 original seedlings, I have 5 awesome plants 8-10" tall, and 1 runt.  I am not going to give up on that runt in hopes that he will be around longer in the season. We shall see.  I wanted more tomato plants than I have, but honestly, these plants are probably going to produce more than Jay and I need.  At least I hope so, so we can share with my bestie and our neighbors!  
At this point it seems the less I do the happier they are! Hey, as much as I love the dirt, I am a very busy girl these days, so less pampering of the 'mater plants I need to do, the better.  To keep it real, two of the transplants didn't make it.  Why? I have no idea.  I didn't do one thing differently for one than the others during the transplanting process, but for whatever reason, two little 'maters are gone to 'mater heaven. 
I'm sure you see, I have a few other things growing under the lights too. The little peppers are struggling.  I may be looking for an organic supplier for my sweet red, bell, and banana peppers again this year, but I'm not giving up on these puny pots quite yet.  
Hey, I have never grown cucumber from seed. Now that I think about it, I've never grown cucumber from anything, but with two pots left over from the demise of  the weak (RIP Baby 'Maters), I decided to toss in a cucumber seed and see what happens.
Um...Maybe I should be growing cucumbers on a larger scale Y'all!  I am so happy with this herculean seedling! Check it out! WOWZER!  Okay, I know this is not a post about cucumbers, but about heirloom organic tomatoes, started indoors, so my random boast about "Ole Herc" is now over. 
The weather is not cooperating with my gardening schedule, but our hopes are this week will be our last really bad cold snap (Dogwood Winter???) and we can actually get our plants into the ground soon! Wish us luck! And send advice! LOTS AND LOTS OF ADVICE! 
~Blessings to everyone, and remember... stay busy flipping dirt and flours!  It's fun and filling! YAY! 
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