Gardeners, Start Your Tomatoes!


Gardener’s Notebook


Tomato season may seem a long way off, but January is the time to sprout your tomato seeds. Knowing where your seeds come from ensures the high quality you seek in your organic vegetables.

I have always been fascinated by seeds, seed savers, and the concept of seeds as the original currency. (Thanks Bill McDorman and Belle Starr for the term.) Back in 2010, I went to Sedona, Arizona, to attend Seeds Trust’s First Annual Seed School. There I met many western-state seed savers, including powerhouse seed-saving couple Penn and Cord Parmenters of Westcliffe, Colorado.

The Parmenters grow out many members of the world’s vegetable seed stock at 8,000 feet. Growing at this high Rocky Mountain location helps encourage faster growth and abilities for enduring intense solar exposure and temperature extremes, and the stressors foster hearty seed stock. When grown out at sea level, these seeds developed at high elevation still exhibit faster growth.

How To Start Your Tomato Seeds
The months of January and February are the optimal time to start your own seeds so the plants are developed enough to go into the soil by May.
Step 1: Sprout seeds in coco coir or a wet paper towel.
Step 2: Pot up in a mixture of 75% coconut coir and 25% potting soil in a 4-inch pot.
Step 3: Water every three days and mist daily with a hand-held water sprayer.
Step 4: Once a week, mix kelp meal into the water in your spray bottle to mist the baby tomato plants.
Step 5: Once plants have reached 4 to 6 inches in height, transplant them into 1-gallon pots full of potting soil.
Step 6: In May, dig oversized holes in your garden and place 1 cup worm castings or finished compost in the bottom of the hole.
Step 7: Prune off the lower leaves of your starts and plant them deep, mounding up the potting soil onto the stems. Make a depression near the start where water can pool.
Step 8: Water frequently and add amendments monthly.

For more on planting your starts in May, check out my article here.

Suggested tomato varieties that do well in the East Bay include:

Want to Learn more about Food Forests?
Check out Joshua’s Cover Crop article from the December 2018 Gardener’s Notebook and his Food Forest article from the Spring 2018 issue of Edible East Bay.

Permaculture designer and educator Joshua Burman Thayer is a regular contributor to Edible East Bay. In his monthly Gardener’s Notebook feature in Edible East Bay’s free e-newsletter, he offers lots more advice on how to implement gardening ideas like this one. Sign up for the newsletter here. Josh has also written for Mother Earth News and Edible Silicon Valley. Find him and his work at, and follow him on Twitter at @nativesungarden.