Four months from now, I am hoping my Rutgers heirloom tomatoes look like this 2015 picture. But first I need to plant those baby seeds in some nice, warm potting soil, set them in a sunny window, and hope they sprout.
1. Last summer I saved a ripe tomato, smeared some of the pulp with seeds on newspaper, and let it dry. After drying I rolled the newspaper sheet up, labeled it and stored it in a dry, cool place. Rutgers is an heirloom tomato which means the seeds will produce the same variety when planted. Hybrid seeds will not reproduce the same tomato as they are a cross of more than one variety.
2. Look for a seed starter kit that includes the peat pots, tray, and lid. It contains everything you need to germinate seeds.
3. The instructions say to pour 7 cups of warm water into the tray. The water expands the peat from disks into pots. After about 15 minutes, they are fully saturated and swollen. I pulled the fiber around the top of the pots away slightly and used a pencil to ruffle the soil. Scrape seeds from the paper and plant about 4 seeds per pot, lightly covering them with soil.
4. Place the clear plastic lid on the tray and set in a sunny window. The wet peat moss inside the container will create a moist, greenhouse-like environment for the seeds to germinate. After the seeds begin to sprout, rotate the tray in the window once a week to expose all sides to the sun in order for the shoots to grow straight. Add water as needed to keep pots moist.
5. When the seedlings are about 2 inches high, snip all sprouts but the strongest in each pot. When seedlings outgrow the lid, remove it. When the lid is removed, the pots will dry out faster; check them for moistness more often.
6. The end of April, the plants should be about 8 inches tall. I begin hardening off the seedlings by moving them outdoors in a sheltered area away from direct sun. The potting bench on our back porch is ideal. Bring them inside if evenings are too cool. After about 2 weeks, I move them to direct sun. By Mothers’ Day, after the soil warms up, they should be ready to plant directly in the garden. The fiber covering the pots is biodegradable; the whole pot can be planted.
This will be the second season I have planted my Rutgers tomatoes from their own seed. I love the fact that they re-produce themselves–endless tomatoes, forever!