Tomato seed questions...

Well... it's moving into the latter stages of winter here and a few weeks away from an early jump on starting seeds. That means it's time to do the annual delurk.
I have had persistent problems starting veggie seeds the last few years, especially tomatoes, and after much prodding finally talked to the CoOperative Agent about it. The feeling is that I may have a fungus around and I am recontaminating things as I go along. I have decided to not use any seeds from last year (I never knew about the fermenting deal) and have decided to order new from Tomato Growers... I grow no hybrids and I will likely do a dozen of about 7 varieties (one of my old ones I cannot find, Spindley) but the packs comes in 30's and I'm wondering if the leftovers will still be good for next year? I know that I have used year old seeds before, but is it normal or was I lucky?
To the extreme on that... I just found an unopened pack of Seeds Of Change Brandywine pinks (best one out there) that is dated as 'packed for 1997' LOL! It's unopened, and has been under a stack of literature in a little cubby hole in the desk here. Never needed them as they gave good seeds every year until recently. There's a lot of shipping involved for just one new pack, and I'd like save $$$$ anywhere I can this year as money has really tightened up here.
Also... the agent wants me to sterilize all my little plastic market packs that I use and the shelves that I grow them on and the drip pans underneath. Is this realistic? It seems like the dishwasher is too hot, and the 10:1 Clorox deal seems light to me. Any experiences with sterilizing everything?
Also... I was told to stop using my garden soil for seeds and go to the soiless stuff. Is this really that big of a deal? What if I spray all of the soil (after it's in the market packs) with Fungonil? I start my seeds early as it's hard to predict how they'll get along with the conditions in the house here, depending on the weather and how much the furnace runs or doesn't. I shoot for May 1 for planting (a few earlier just for fun) and if they take off then I rather they be in soil so as to not have to keep transplanting them.
That's it for now... but the year is young :-)
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1) Good resource about how long seeds can be stored: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07221.html Just remember that HOW they're stored is a big issue.
2) You didn't mention WHERE you start your seeds. If in the same room as a gas furnace, and you occasionally smell just a touch of gas that you ignore because it only happens when the furnace goes off or on, and even then, it's just barely noticeable, stop ignoring it. It'll kill tiny seedlings. I assume I don't need to tell you how I found this out. :-)
3) No garden soil. Too many variables. Buy seed starter mix, or search online for "cornell potting soil recipe" or some such thing. Peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, if I recall. The acidity of the peat moss somewhat retards microorganisms. You need to add lime if you want to use it as a long-term potting soil for most plants.
If you use the right soil, I think you can skip the sterilization of the containers, unless they've been stored someplace damp and they smell musty. I never sterilize mine, and haven't had ANY kind of seedling failure in 20 years. The gas leak issue was 21 years ago.....

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No links. I'm 51 years old, and I learned what I know before there was an internet available to everyone. If I recall, I learned this from a nurseryman.
Not familiar with ventless gas heaters, but the problem I described involved UNBURNED natural gas. When the utility guy came to investigate, it took him 30 minutes of walking around with his detector to spot the source of the leak. He couldn't smell it, but I could. He figured the furnace was releasing perhaps a thimble full of gas per hour. Not enough to be dangerous, but enough to affect the seedlings.
If you want to test your situation, choose a very tender seedling, like lettuce. At least for me, those were the most difficult to nurse along for the first week or two.

What the agent said is correct in one sense: Sterilizing everything (assuming it works) will certainly eliminate one factor. It couldn't hurt, obviously. The question is whether you need to go through the hassle. Or, is it a hassle? Got a laundry sink or bath tub? End of hassle. Don't obsess about the bleach concentration. Just make a strong solution. If it smells like an indoor swimming pool, you're in business. Rinse the pots like crazy.
By the way, there's nothing like a detachable shower head (WaterPik, etc) for rinsing weird objects in the tub. If you don't have one, now would be a good time......
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Ralph D. wrote:

If you have trouble with tomatoes, you must have really a lot of contamination. They are amongst the hardiest seedlings you can find.
You can keep seed packets in the freezer in a ziploc bag. They will last forever.

Place a few in a folded wet paper towel on top of the fridge. If they will sprout, they are usable.

I do the Clorox thing. Works for me and you have to do it if you have, say, a six pack that contained garden soil last year.

That is good advice. Buy new, sterilized soil at the store for your seedlings. It's garden soil that brings in the fungus and the other critters. It has killed a lot of seedlings at my place. The mix from the store is very light and will allow proper root development. You could also consider boiling a big pot of quality garden soil, drain and dry. If it sounds messy, it is because it is messy. I do boil some (in a very large drum) for direct planting in the garden through the mulch, but I do it mostly to kill the seeds present in the soil, and I give it quite a few weeks to evaporate the water.
Also, it is a bit soon to plant tomatoes that will go out May 1. I'd wait another 3 weeks. If they are kept indoor too long, they become weak and spindly. I keep them indoor-outdoor starting April 15 (sunny patio, move indoors if frost is forecast) and they still get a bit on the spindly side for my taste. Basically, you have 8 weeks to put them out, after which they will lose vigor. they are not plants that are happy in small pots.

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Well... I always try to get a jump on things but if the weather isn't cooperating they do OK in market packs with garden soil and some regular doses of Miracle Gro... until the last few years that is.

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The cubby hole in the desk is not the best place to store seeds. It's too warm. If you air condition your house in warm weather it's also probably too humid. However, tomatoes are weeds and the seeds last a long time. Put a few on a damp paper towel and keep it damp. Check them to see if they germinate. If you were talking about lettuce or peppers, I'd say throw them out. Tomato seeds can put up with a lot, but it's best to check them before depending on them.
10:1 clorox is heavy. Many growers use solutions in the 1-5% range for sanitation. Wear gloves and keep some vinegar handy in case you get some on your hands. Do it all in a well ventilated area. An alternative is hydrogen peroxide, 10:1 using the 3% stuff you get in the grocery store. It's easier on your hands and lungs and you can do it indoors.
Garden soil is full of weeds and fungi (not all harmful). Use commercial growing mix. You can get it most anywhere. It's not expensive. It's been sterilized. It's cheaper than trying to do it yourself.
You don't describe exactly what happens to your plants. Is it damping off? You can reduce damping off dramatically by just putting a fan in the room where you're starting your seedlings. The air circulation will remove humid air at the air-soil interface where the damping off fungus takes hold of the plants.
As far as growing the tomatoes, most indoor growing arrangements don't present enough light to the plants to keep them from getting leggy. The solution is to put them in a south window (I assume you're in the northern hemisphere) or use really bright lights. Keep the room air temperature cool, 50-60 F, but it wouldn't hurt to heat the root zone. This will encourage root growth and slow down the upper plant growth. The top of the plant will catch up quickly when it's transplanted.
Ralph D. wrote:

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Along with air circulation, it helps to add some bottom heat, using heating cables made for this purpose. It doesn't eliminate fungi, but it accelerates sprouting. If the seedlings reach a certain size more quickly, they'll often "outrun" the fungi.
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I've tried to think up a poor man's solution to bottom heating for a while and never really came up with one. The new area would have a gas heater on the floor with the market packs sitting in foil trays so that the rising heat might warm the metal faster and that's about the best I can think of at this point.
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The poor man's solution also happens to be the cheapest way and the best way. Check your yellow pages for some nurseries which sell seed planting supplies. There are inexpensive heating cables made to be placed in the bottoms of plant trays. You install them in the trays with duct tape. You put a layer of gravel on top to diffuse the heat, and your six-packs on top of the gravel. The cables are waterproof. The trays I've used for years are light green, thick plastic, not the floppy ones that garden centers sometimes let you take when you buy six-packs.
If you call around and get teenagers who put you on hold and forget you, go to plan B: Call this store: Harris Gardens 585-45-1985 Ask them if they have the long green trays in stock, and heating cables. Ask if they'll ship you some. They're nice people, so I'm sure they will. I only glanced at the cables last time I was there, so I can only guess, but I'll guess you'll pay $12.00 per tray/cable combo, plus the cost of duct tape, gravel, and perhaps a timer.
Or, you could go to www.gardeners.com and spend an arm and a leg on heat mats, which start at $38.95. They look nice, but.....try the above, first.
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Doug Kanter wrote:

What kind of phone number is that? Looks like a SSAN to me.
--

Travis in Shoreline (just North of Seattle) Washington
USDA Zone 8b
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It's the kind of phone number you get when you're trying to reach the keyboard without letting your sleeve touch the bagel, cream cheese & lox!
Correct number: 585-475-1985
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Doug Kanter wrote:

Bad bagel, bad bad bagel. ;-)
--

Travis in Shoreline (just North of Seattle) Washington
USDA Zone 8b
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I've had pretty good success with my seedlings, so allow me to offer my two cents.
First of all, definitely sterilize any pots you're going to reuse this season. A solution of 10 parts water to 1 part Clorox should be fine. I don't know whether you really have to douse everything in sight, but at the very least, sterilize everything that the growing medium, seeds or plants will come in contact with.
Definitely get specially formulated germinating mix, NOT garden soil. Of all the brands I've tried, I prefer the Germinating Mix from Gardener's Supply Company. It's very fine and I've had great results using it. Follow this link: http://tinyurl.com/3s3ml
While you're there, I also highly recommend investing in one of the APS seed starting units. They come in trays with 24 spaces, as well as 12 spaces that fit perfectly on a sunny window ledge. This self-watering system makes it so you only have to water your seedlings about once a week. Letting them dry out is the quickest way to stunt their growth, if not downright kill 'em! I know you mentioned trying to keep it economical, but they're reusable year after year. Worth the $10, IMO.
I planted my seeds in my seed starting units this past weekend, and already the Zinnias, Scabiosa, and Forget Me Nots have sprouted! No tomatoes just yet, but it won't be long!
Best of luck this season.
-Fleemo
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Not sure how the seeds got there, I'm gonna see if they shoot

Interesting. I used to use a lot of Clorox on an old job and we made it very strong for sanitiziing which had me thinking she didn't make it strong enough. Last night a guy was telling me that any stronger that 10% might leave a chlorine residue that might be a really bad thing in my market packs... I might just buy new.

I suppose. I just hate to put much $$$ into things where I don't have to, and garden soil was always good to have in there if the weather was slow and they had to live indoor longer than expected.

This brings up a topic that I would be better to start a new thread on... the lights that is.

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Probably a good idea to see if these old seeds will germinate. I believe tomato and pepper seeds are only good for a couple of years. Frank
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