Winter Transplants - Bob Dunn Photography
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Winter Transplants

Seedlings before transplant were throwing elbows and in need of more spaceThe sun showed itself briefly yesterday, long enough for me to thin out a row of spinach and make half a new row with the transplanted thinnings. In years past I would’ve just discarded the thinnings, however, I find myself liking spinach more and more (Popeye syndrome) and becoming more of a miser with my seeds.

A steady but light rain began falling early this morning and continues without end, so it was a good day to transplant tomato seedlings, too. Planted 12-14 days ago, many of them already have their first pair of true leaves; a few have grown their second pair. That means their root systems should be strong enough for transplanting into something a little roomier.Homemade potting soil includes perlite, peat moss and organic soil amendments

I’d planted my saved seed five to a 4-by-4-inch square pot, since I have lots of seed. Three varieties I bought from a regular vendor were planted three to each 4-by-4 pot, since they came in somewhat expensive packets, 30 to a packet. Ironically, the seeds purchased from the professional grower have shown much poorer germination than my own varieties (note in the top photo, the two outside rows came from home-grown seeds while the center row was purchased). In fact, one variety that I bought showed zero germination – nada. (I will not name the vendor, in the hopes that the company will recognize themselves and do a little in-house investigation, as they once were very reliable but have slipped two years in a row.)

Pricking out tomato seedlings with a forkI dragged the necessary supplies from garage to upstairs indoor plant room, where the seedlings have been growing under lights. First, I mixed some potting soil, using about 60% peat moss, almost 40% medium-coarse perlite, and a small amount of a semi-secret organic concoction including alfafla meal, soft rock phosphate with colloidal clay, cottonseed meal, bone meal, worm castings, soybean meal, feather meal, sulfate of potash, rabbit manure, humate greensand and epsom salts. Perfected by the now-retired owners of Rabbit Hill Farm, this gentle organic fertilizer can be purchased here from Maestro Gro of Hamilton, Texas.

After mixing up enough soil, I used an old fork to lift the seedlings out of their square pots, and then gently separated the plants’ roots. Those with the best root systems found themselves alone in new, more spacious pots. The rest were mercilessly rejected.Seedlings are transplanted each into their own pot

What you do is sprinkle a layer of soil in the bottom of the new pot, gently grasp the transplant by the stem and hold it upright with the roots resting near the bottom of the pot. Fill the pot with soil far enough so that the plant is sitting deeper than it was before, all the way up to the cotyledon leaves (the first pair of leaves that appear when a seedling emerges – before the “true” leaves show up). Unlike most plants, tomatoes stems form roots anywhere as long as they are covered in soil.

Happy tomato transplants ready to grow largeThen you gently water in the new transplants. I keep mine in partial light shade for several hours after transplanting, as full, harsh lights (or sunlight) might shock the little guys’ systems.

In another six to eight weeks, it’ll be time in semi-South Texas to put these plants in the garden. Until then, I like to make sure they don’t get too root-bound, and likely will transplant them again, into even bigger pots, before introducing them to their permanent homes outdoors.

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