Seedlings: Growing and Selecting The Best

Anyone who has ever done a basic google search on tomatoes, or spoken to anyone about potentially growing tomatoes, knows that you’re supposed to start off with tomato seedlings instead of tomato seeds. What is a tomato seedling? Well, for comparison purposes, lets say a tomato seed is a fetus, and a tomato seedling is a newborn baby. Why seedlings and not seeds? It’s like when you adopt a kid. You don’t want to take care of the egg in the womb, you want to take care of the baby, after someone else gets all the stretch marks and deals with all the puking and mood swings and the awkward four-month baby bump where people wonder if you’re pregnant or just fat (this not from experience being pregnant, this from me wondering if people who are four months pregnant are pregnant or just weirdly fat,  and also vice versa. Its much better to just not say anything, ever, unless they tell you straight up that they’re pregnant. I’ve seen women who I thought were DEFINITELY 9 MONTHS PREGNANT but were, unfortunately, just 9 months pregnant with their latest batch of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Little Debbies Cupcakes. Not criticizing, just sayin’)

Okay so why tomato seedlings? Because not all tomato seeds are created equal, and you can’t pick the winners. Its like, if you didn’t feel the need to reproduce, and you could pick from any baby in the world, you’d want the strongest, smartest, handsomest kid that was most likely to grow up and be a success so that they could take care of you when you’re old and you can forget about saving for retirement! In that situation, 401k’s are only for losers who don’t pick their kids wisely. Unfortunately, in real life, you can’t pick your kid. You’re stuck with that pimply-nosed snot who has diabetes and a lower than average IQ and will probably work at RJ’s Car Detailing Shop for the rest of his life (NOTHING AGAINST the lovely employees at RJ’s Car Detailing Shop, but if that happens, investing in a 401k or an IRA makes you prepared for the future as opposed to a drag on our future social security).

So the beauty of shopping for tomato seedlings is that you can pick the strongest, happiest tomato seedlings that are most likely to win the tomato game. (Namely, you want to beat those suckers over on Rosehill and Knox. Someday I will post an exclusive post about my nemeses over there, and I’ll take pictures, and you will see. I am David, they are Goliath. I am Wile E. Coyote, they are Roadrunner. I am Butler, they are whoever Butler is playing in the Ntl Championships.) Also, the timing for planting seeds/tomatoes kind of sucks — when you want to start planting the seeds, its usually too cold outside for the seeds to do well at all. So you have to plant them inside while you wait for the weather outside to warm up, and that means you have to get grow lights and seedling containers (you can just use styrofoam cups, actually). This can be a bit of a pain, but I’m doing it with some seeds I ordered online at Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, and I will explain that process soon.

What makes a tomato seedling the most badass tomato seedling ever? well, a quick google search for “badass tomato seedling” reveals the following: never mind, sometimes i forget that the real world doesn’t communicate in my sixth-grade vernacular. Somehow, this image came up?

People put weird things in their gardens.

NEW SEARCH TERMS: “how to pick tomato seedling” works much better.

Which brings us to a conversation on determinate, indeterminate, heirloom.

Determinate: your plant will grow to a certain height, produce a certain amount of fruit, and then stop. These are good if you have limited space and you’re going to stagger your planting.

Indeterminate: your plant will just keep growing, and growing, and producing fruit, and expanding. these are better for lazy people with lots of space and trellises — you can also engage in some serious pruning efforts to keep them at a manageable size, which I will hopefully blog about when it happens.

Heirloom: heirlooms come in both determinate and indeterminate, but heirloom refers to the fact that a tomato species has been around in that exact DNA format for several decades. The rules vary on what classifies as heirloom; some people say 50 years, others say 100+. The really cool tomatoes that you see that are purple and orange and pink, and weirdly shaped, and DELICIOUSLY FLAVORFUL, these are heirloom tomatoes. I love heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are for cool people. 🙂 Apparently they are also not as resistant to disease though, so we will see.

*sigh of relief* explaining that was really boring, i’m so glad its over.

Once you’ve decided whether you want determinate, indeterminate, heirloom, on to picking tomato seedlings. This is not as easy as you think. There are several things that you should remember; in fact, you should print out this post and take it with you and tell everyone about how great and helpful my blog posts are. This way, you’ll remember the handy hints, AND you’ll fulfill your readership responsibility by doing some promotion.

1. Height: You want a seedling that will take root easily and won’t be so set in its ways that it won’t take kindly to new person dirt. Its like adopting a four year old vs a 6 month old — at 6 months, they’re used to being outside the womb, but are cool with new people. At 4 years, the kids all, WTF, WHERES MY MOMMYYYYYYYYY. So this means, somewhere between 4-8 inches tall, and you want a plant thats about as wide as it is tall. A chubby little monster; kind of like my cousin:

1. continued. Also, plants that are too tall might be “leggy” — this means they shoot for the sun -either they were over fertilized or their growing conditions just weren’t ideal. Leggy tomato plants tend not to produce as much fruit as wide tomato plants. You can combat this by transplanting them super deep, burying them all the way up to their top leaves, which will cause them to grow out, and their root system will develop along the whole buried stem.

2. Leaf Color: if you are red green colorblind, bring a non-disabled friend. Leaves should be evenly colored and GREEN. Its always nice and humane when you adopt a disabled human being with a wilted appendage, but theres no excuse for adopting a disabled tomato plant with wilty, jaundiced leaves. It’s a freakin tomato plant, for goodness sake. Tossing it in the compost pile isn’t going to make Save the Children come knockin at your door. So don’t feel sorry for the sad, pathetic tomato plants — pass over that nastiness! The key is GREEN, HEALTHY LOOKING.

3. Stem: no broken-ness, no brown-ness. If you have a short tomato plant, it should be straight. If its a pretty tall plant and you ignored my advice in number 1, well, it might be falling over under its own weight. In this situation, please talk to the hand. I have nothing to offer those who stray from Melissa’s Anointed Path.

4. Where to buy? I would recommend going on Craigslist and searching for seedlings. Theres an amazing number of people who sell what you’re looking for, at cheap prices, if you can’t find your stuff at Weaver Street or Whole Foods or other hippy-type grocery stores. And then you get the added bonus of a little adrenaline rush when you risk your life by meeting complete strangers! Because serial killers love to advertise for their victims on the Farm & Garden section of Craigslist.

Thats it on selecting. Make sure you have enough space in your garden for whatever you pick.

On to the fun part : planting tomatoes from seed!!!!!

So i ordered some tasty looking tomato seeds from Annies Heirloom Seeds on Monday, and the seeds arrived here today. HOW FABULOUS.

Their website is very organic and home-grown looking, and I’ve spent the last week wondering about Annie. Is Annie old? Does Annie have red hair? Annie must be very tan from spending all of her time outdoors, with sun-baked hair that she keeps in a braid, smile wrinkles, and a lesbian stay-at-home partner who is an expert chef. Annie and I would be really good friends; we’d frolic through fields of tomato seedlings and bond over the importance of organic and heirloom varieties, we’d giggle in the morning over freshly ground coffee and cream from her pet dairy cows, etc, etc. Annie and I became great friends last week. So when Evan walked through the door with the packet from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, I ripped it open, and there was a handwritten message apologizing for the late delivery for the sweet peppers I’d ordered. I thought, oh, how sweet, my new bestie Annie handwrote me a message!

wait…who is the signature from? JULIE? Who the ef is JULIE? I ORDERED SEEDS FROM ANNIE, DAMMIT. We spent so much time together, and she doesn’t even have the decency to write me a personalized handwritten note? WTF. WE ARE THROUGH, ANNIE. THROUGH.


Earlier today, I convinced Evan to let me tag along on his weekly manly trip to Home Depot, so I could pick up some seedling starter pots and a grow light for my tomato babies. Ask the friendly workers at Home Depot to direct you to the grow bulbs. I picked a big one, and we bought some peat-moss starter pots, which are probably not organic, but whatever, its gotta be better than styrofoam, right? And Evan bought a bunch of top soil in his quest to greenify our crap yard.

When I came home, I set everything up. I was so. excited.

I wondered to myself, what is the first thing one of my baby tomato seedlings will see when they enter the world?


Look at that sad little abandoned 60 watt bulb. Poor little guy. He’ll go back in when the seedlings are done.

So theres some other stuff you’re supposed to do, like make sure it doesn’t get too warm, put the light closer to the tomato plants, somehow keep them watered, etc, etc, etc. we’ll see what happens.


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