IF you've never bitten into a fragrant, vine-ripened, sun-warmed tomato harvested fresh from your own garden, you haven't tasted a real tomato. And once you do, you'll never again be satisfied with the mealy supermarket imposters. Fortunately, tomato plants are easy to grow and remarkably productive.
Tomatoes are long-season, heat-loving plants that won't tolerate frost, so it's best to set them into the garden as transplants (young plants) after the weather has warmed up in spring. You can purchase tomato transplants, but there's something especially rewarding about starting your own plants indoors. Plus, by growing your own transplants you can choose from among hundreds of tomato varieties that are available as seed but rarely sold as transplants.
Quick to germinate and grow, tomato seeds are best sown indoors about six weeks before your average last frost date.
Soil Even though it's known as "potting soil", the best medium for seed starting is a sterile soil, that’s labeled for seed starting. Never use garden soil, which often drains poorly and may harbor disease organisms. This step should pertain to all plants started from seeds.
Containers You can start your seeds in just about anything that holds soil and has drainage holes, however the best choice is purchased pots, such as biodegradable pots and seed-starting trays.
Seeds germinate best at warm room temperature (70-75 degrees F).
Thoroughly moisten the seed-starting mix, and then fill the containers to within 1/2" of the top. Firm the mix but don't compact it.
Place two or three seeds into each small container or each cell of a seed starter. Cover the seed with about 1/4" of soil and gently firm it over the seeds.
Water to ensure good seed-to-mix contact. You can use a plant mister or just dribble a stream of water over the top. You don't need to soak the soil, just moisten the top layer.
Transplanting into the garden Wait to transplant your tomato seedlings into the garden until they are 4 to 6 inches and after the average last spring frost date. Be prepared to protect the seedlings with season-extending garden fabric, row covers or plant covers) if a late frost threatens. If all goes well, you'll be harvesting ripe tomatoes in eight weeks or less.