Just a quick update. It's finally getting consistently hot enough here in Albuquerque for me to put the plants out. It's been about 7 weeks or so since I started the project. The plants have spent most of the 7 weeks indoors under some kitchen lights. I have lights mounted under the cabinets and that's next to a window seal so they get indirect and artificial light.
In the 7 weeks I have experimented with several seed starter mediums such as the jiffy starter kit in post 1, those brown biodegradeable paper cups you put potting soil in, and starter plugs from the hydroponic store made of bark and some other material. The starter plugs have shown the most promise but all methods do work just fine. I have also transplanted 1 of the tomato plants into the hydroponic unit and it's doing well. For the future I will like start the seeds in the starter plugs and then transplant them to the hydroponic unit until it's warm enough to go into the ground.
Back about 5 weeks ago, I bought my 3 yo daughter an Elmo (Sesame Street) tomato growing bag from Lowes. It had a packet of seeds, labels, some chinsy plastic gardening tools, etc. Anyways, I was going to help her grow some tomato plants, but as I was taking a nap, she went ahead and opened up everything and basically dump all the seeds onto some dirt in the front yard. She didn't even bury the seeds and made a mess of all the other supplies.
I cleaned up the mess and left the seeds as they were. Totally forgot about them and yesterday notice a bunch of 2" tomato plants as I almost pulled them thinking they were weeds.
So I told the story to say that (at least for my climate), it isn't even necessary to start seeds indoors. I will continue to do so to get bigger plants when the weather is hot enough, but apparently you can just sprinkle seeds and they will grow just fine. In the next month or 2, her little tomato plants will likely be as big as the ones I've started indoors.
Also last week I notice some of the leaves had holes in them. Upon closer inspection each day, I notice something peculiar. Tiny green catepillars dessimating my plants! Those little b@stards!!
They had eaten the tops off of 4-5 of the tomato plants. Luckily I had grown extra to compensate for the lost. They are so well camoflouge. Over the course of several days, I continually found more. The plants have spent very little time outside, so I suspect these came from the potting soil! Another reason to go with the Jiffy starter kit or the starter plugs next year.
Things I've learn so far...
1) Different variety of tomatoe grow at different rates. My marglobe tomatoes (originally an American specimen) is the tallest and healthiest of the bunch at around 6-7" tall. The San Marzanos are the smallest at just 2" or so.
2) Dividing the plants and transplanting them into the potting soil medium stunted their growth overall as a group. So i won't do that again. Originally I did that to give the plants a bit more room and to bury them deeper to allow for better root formation (so I thought) and negate the long "leggy" stem situation. Also transplanting them into the brown paper containers with potty soil/soil I believe lead to the worm issue.
3) As mentioned before, do not transplant outside too early in the summer. I transplanted 4 plants out yesterday and it was very hot today and they all did fine. I did not "hardened" them and they were fine. Apparently as Cranky mentioned you'll have to do that if there are still temp swings. But if there are swings, it's likely it's too early to bring them out. Best to keep them indoors under a light until it's hot enough outside.
4) I used the pruning techniques posted by mmarston in reply #49 for a tomato plant I bought from Lowes and it's doing well. That is an excellent site with great tips. Thanks mmarston. I planted this little guy about 6 weeks ago and it has shown very little growth. It's taken off just within the last 2 wks as the weather has been consistently warmer with little temperature swings. Again, goes to show that it's not necessary to plant early as it's just a bigger risk of losing plants.
5) If you want the seedlings to grow faster, keep them under a light 24/7. The constant light won't harm them. Just make sure you keep the soil moist at all times.
6) My dad, who is the real farmer Tran, gave me a good tip. He said to soak seeds in water for a couple of days before planting and they'll come up faster. I haven't tried it but it sounds like a good idea.
Here are a few pics of the plants. As soon as they start thriving in the ground, I'll snap a few more pics.