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Gardening: Start your tomato seeds indoors now

Ray Ridlen explains that tomatoes can be started indoors early in the year, then transplanted later.
BY RAY RIDLEN, For The Oklahoman Published: January 21, 2013

Tomatoes do not set fruit well when the nighttime temperature is below about 60 degrees or above about 70 degrees or when the daytime temperature is consistently above about 92 degrees.

Now take a few seconds and reread that again.

Now ask yourself, “how in the heck do we ever get any tomatoes here in Oklahoma?”

The answer is to plant early.

I remember back in the mid-eighties when I was managing a vegetable operation in western Oklahoma. We decided to stagger our planting dates for our cantaloupe, planting the first, second, and third week of April.

When do you think we harvested? Yes, they all became ripe at the same time.

For most of our warm season vegetables, it is of no benefit to tempt fate and Mother Nature by attempting to get these out into the garden early.

Tomatoes are the exception to the rule.

Tomatoes need to be planted into the garden even when there is a good chance of a light freeze or hard frost. Tomato plants need to be of a certain maturity level for them to start blooming.

Now is a good time to start your tomatoes indoors. There are several tabletop seed starting kits on the market. The Jiffy-7 is probably the most common. If you have a heating pad, and your spouse will let you use it, you might not need to purchase the heating pad used by the Jiffy-7.

Purchase a good potting soil. Put it into a clean bucket and add water. Many of the potting soils are hydrophobic. If they are not pre-wetted, they will shed off water when you attempt to water the containers. Initial container size is debatable. I prefer to start with small sizes and then transplant up to larger sizes.

Light is not required for germination (lettuce is an exception), but will be needed after germination.

A plant grow light is not required. I have found that a four-foot shop light with cool white florescent bulbs will suffice. The shop light will need to be raised as the plants grow. Keep the lamp one to two inches above the growing plants.

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