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by Carole Schwalm Three freshly picked garden tomatoes on a white counter.

"…Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."
- Henry David Thoreau

Like the people who never peruse instruction manuals or who refuse to read maps to find out where they are, many gardeners grab packets, pop seeds into the ground and prepare for wonders to happen. That little packet contains a lot of information.

Let's use a cherry tomato envelope as an example. Besides the picture, the front tells us that this tomato is a warm season crop, as are all tomatoes, and that it requires 65 days from seed to harvest. If you live in an area with a short growing season or you are an impatient gardener, look for a crop that is ready in 55 days. Or if you've got nothing but time consider a variety that needs 75 to 80 days. Or if you are really, really patient, you'll wait from 95 to 100 days.

Branch of ripening cherry tomatos on a black background. Most of us covet plentiful crops. Naturally, seed companies want you to know that you get "large numbers" of product. Look for words like vigorous and prolific. A packet might tell you plant height and tomato size. Our cherry tomato package says plants grow 2½ feet tall and the fruit is approximately 2 inches in size.

Seed packets tell how many seeds are inside. Ours has 10 seeds, packed for 2011, with a sell date of 12/11. It is a 100 percent certified organic product; and can't say so unless it really is that.


It is amazing how much planting information can be found on a 3½ x 4½ inch of paper on the reverse side of the seed envelope, pertaining specifically to this tomato. Trust first-class seed suppliers do lots of testing before they market their products.

Our planting instructions tell us we should start the seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last spring frost. The planting depth is 1/8 inch, and this is important. After planting, keep the soil moist, but not soggy. (I've found a meat baster is great for seed and plantlet watering).

Another key piece of advice is to make sure the seed, then the plantlet is in a warm area where the temperature is between 75 to 80°. The tomato plant should have nice light source during the indoor growing period.

Young tomato plants still in their containers and sitting on a sidewalk stair.We are told we won't see anything green pop up for between five to ten days. We shouldn't thin the plants until they reach 2 inches in height. When they reach this growth, we should transplant the plant into a 4" pot. In case we didn't know, we are advised to bury stems up to the base of the leaves.

We should fertilize the plantlet every two weeks. Plants should be acclimated to the outdoors, and then set three feet apart in rich soil with full sun exposure. Mulch, and do not over-water once the fruit begins to ripen.

To entice you, and certainly it does, the packet lets you know that you can expect: classic tomato flavor that makes your mouth water with its well-rounded taste, and sugary sweetness, and depth of flavor. Yum!

Share your tomato gardening experience or if you'd like more information.