Starting Tomatoes From Seed


Growing your own food is right up there with riding your bike when it comes to green acts. It doesn’t get more earth-friendly than the hundred foot diet.

With our short growing season, the tomatoes that we put in the ground in late May can’t be in seed form. Traditionally, Edmontonians head to their local nurseries when the time comes to buy tomato seedlings. With a bit of foresight, though, you can save yourself a bunch of money and reduce the impact of your tomatoes even further.


A couple of weeks ago I bought some open-pollinated tomato seeds from the good people of A’bunadh Seeds (from Cherhill Alberta – they had a booth at Seedy Sunday this year). I’m no seed expert, but I believe that open-pollinated means that I can harvest my own seeds from the resulting tomatoes (as opposed to hybrid seeds).  Earth’s General Store sells some great seeds too.

Any old tomato seeds will do in a pinch though. I chose a yellow, cherry, paste and beefsteak varieties.


The way to start your own tomatoes from seed is to get a bunch of small containers, they could be anything from actual seedling containers to Tim Horton’s cups, and fill them with soil. The soil should come from your backyard. Conventional sources will always tell you to buy potting soil from your local Home Depot or nursery, but I’ve never done so.

Potting soil ranks up there with bottled water on the list of useless items that companies have manufactured demand for. One website claims “garden soil is not a good choice, as it compacts too easily and can harbour organisms that cause diseases.” So how exactly will your tomatoes grow in this disease-infested soil once you plant them in said garden? For large greenhouses that have disease problems, sterilized potting soil makes sense. For the backyard gardener, it’s just another example of diminishing returns on investment.


(fill some containers with backyard soil)

Once you have soil in containers, plant the tomato seeds about 1/8” deep. I labelled the containers with strips from an old Venetian blind that I found in the alley.


(pieces cut from old blinds make great signs to label plants with)

Now moisten the dirt with a bit of water and place the containers in the window.


(just water every four days and wait!)

It’s not too late to plant your own tomato seeds. The ideal date for starting the seedlings is March 25 (that’s what it says in the August Organics calendar), but even April 20th probably wouldn’t be too late.

I planted about $4.00 worth of seeds in 45 minutes. The 30 or so tomato seedlings that I end up with will be worth $90.00, so the whole exercise was low-impact and cost-efficient. Plus, there’s nothing quite like seeing the entire life cycle of your food. Somehow it just tastes better.

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Whoo! I am new to starting my own tomatoes from seed as well. I used potting soil, although next time I will use some dirt from my yard.

Hello. I quite often have conversations with staff and customers about the use of the word 'dirt'. I don't like it when a person is describing soil or earth. Dirt is dead - void of organic material or not enough to sustain or give a good start to the life of a seed. Earth and soil are alive words. I believe it also shows respect for that which provides us with sustenance - our food.
Nice idea about getting soil from your own yard for potting plants. Your backyard soil is where they are goign to live anyway so it makes sense to have them start off in it. When we have a child we tend to wrap it up and keep it warmer than we ourselves would like and many other actions to ensure that our baby has better than normal conditions to thrive. I think it is like this for seeds. I plant seeds and I want to ensure that they get a good vibrant foothold right from from the start. I give them water, good soil and warmth (in a sunny window or close to a heat source) to help them get started. I do use potting soil or the peat pellets that people can purchase. For one thing I don't have the foresight to bring in soil before it freezes since when I want to start my plants the soil outside is normally frozen. Normal backyard soil also lacks the higher levels of organic matter that I think is condusive to a good start. Potting soil is also lighter which allows tender root tendrils to reach out and get a firm grasp on their surronding.
The best type of potting soil is to make it yourself. I have made this in the past with some finished compost, rich garden soil (that I have cultivated myself) and some sand (helps with drainage).
I have no doubt that seeds will grow in soil taken from your backyard and might do okay but for the above reasons I do like to use potting soil so that I give these seeds and young plants as good as a start as possible.
I do agree with Conrad that the ecological footprint of soil can be higher than I would like and could be a bit of a scam. There are many people out there that will go and by potting soil and garden soil to build their gardens. This is expensive and usually not needed.
Anyway there are my two cents worth on this subject.

Thanks for the info. Im originally from s/ont & never had to buy tomatoe plants-- or plant seeds. the compost pile always provided us with more plants than the whole town could use. we never knew what variety we would have, but the surprises were delicious & free.

Go eco Everyone, for Everything!

I harvest seeds from my organic produce like I watched my mom and Grandma do.
the seeds all get planted in my backyard city garden and I harvest those seeds, too.

Potatoes are a hearty plant for tomato growers to consider. Also for patio gardens herbs, carrots, brocolli, cauliflour, beets, radishes, squash, beans, peppers, lettuce, spinach, peas, berries and more... up here in the northern hemisphere (AB, Can) these plants get all the light they need in a south facing window. I also grew peaches and cream corn last season, it was planted late (end of June) and grew to be 6" with 3-5 large ears on each plant. delicous:D

I used a tip from a first nations childrens activity book; to plant corn, squash and beans in one hill for soil enrichment and protection from the elements such as wind that is specific to this climate. I was a great idea and worked well for my garden, it reminded me to check out what plants to grow close together.

Have fun and Enjoy

This year I've started tomato seeds for the first time. They germinated two or three weeks ago but now some of the tiny leaves are looking a little yellowed. I've provided sufficient light and I think enough water. Will transplanting them from little squares within my seed starting tray into proper pots be enough, or do I need to provide a little organic fertilizer? Or just not worry? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

If you're not using a light, you may have been a bit early on the planting. No big deal though.

As for the yellowing, is it only the bottom two leaves? Because they will eventually yellow and fall off (if I recall correctly). Otherwise, it may be lack of nutrients. Proper pots with organic soil (not nutrient-free potting soil) would solve that problem, or adding liquid fertilizer to your water.

Great artical. Back yard dirt works perfect and primes the plant for life in the garden. Bagged garden mix is way too soft. Edmonton dirt is solid so might as well get them use to it early

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