If your tomato tastes yearn for something different than the standard hybrids or heirlooms that are available at the nurseries and box stores in March, then you need to grow your own plants. Growing your own tomatoes from seed is fun, pretty easy and the only way to ensure that you have the varieties you love when planting time comes. For those of us in Zones 8 and 9 planting time is generally thought of as March 15. Since it takes about three months to turn a tiny little tomato seed into a healthy transplant the time to plant those seeds is now.
This year, I am going to try something new. My friend and plant mentor Cynthia Mueller of College Station told me that country people used to start their tomato plants in egg shells. According to Cynthia, these frugal, and practical, old timers would poke a drainage hole in the bottom of an opened egg shell, fill it with a little potting media and seeds and then place them in a sunny window. Once the plants were ready to up pot they would gently crush the shell and plant both the shell and the seedling in a bigger pot. I love the simplicity and frugality of this tip so much that I have decided to try it and compare “egg shell transplants” to the ones I grow in my high tech grow center.
For this test we are going to grow “Old German” tomatoes that I purchased from the Territorial Seed Company. Since I live in an area that is full of people of German descent I thought this would be the perfect tomato to use in my egg shell experiment. Old German is a large (fruits over a pound) open pollenated, non-determinate tomato plant that produces sweet “orange-y” tomatoes.
To prepare our egg shells my wife went out to the coop and picked up a dozen eggs. She used a serrated knife to take the tops off of the eggs and an ice pick to make the drainage holes. After that she washed them very gently with warm soapy water. Once the shells were clean she used a kitchen spoon to fill the egg shells with a commercial potting media. Finally, she watered the media thoroughly and added the seeds.
Through the years I have seen gardeners that have grown great transplants with very simple set ups and others that produce their plants with incredibly elaborate systems. While this experiment is just for fun, it is a great illustration of just how easy it is to grow your own tomatoes from seed. If you have never tried growing tomato transplants I highly recommend that you order some seeds and give it a try. It is a fun and inexpensive way to explore the incredible amount of variety that exists the tomato genus.
BTW, now is also the perfect time to plant peppers, eggplants and tomatillos. Be sure to check back in March and see how my “egg shell” experiment works out.
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