Starting tomatoes is an annual event

Jerry Apps
Sowing tomato seeds is a rite of spring for Jerry Apps.

We were a day late. My mother, an avid gardener, always started her tomato seeds on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. She said it was a day for recognizing green—and thus a proper day for planting tomato seeds she had saved from the previous year’s crop. She did not buy the seeds.

My daughter-in-law, Natasha and I planted our tomato seeds on March 18. It has been an annual event for us. For those who might be interested, we started the following varieties: Steak Sandwich Hybrid (a 10 oz. tomato ready 70 days from transplanting in the garden), Big Beef Hybrid (large red, ready 73 days from transplanting), Early Girl Hybrid (medium large, ready 57 days from transplanting), Fourth of July Hybrid, (4 oz. fruits ready 49 days from transplanting), Better Boy Hybrid ( large red fruit, ready 75 days from transplanting), Wisconsin 55 (large red, 75 days from transplanting), Super Sweet 100 Hybrid (a cherry tomato ready about 70 days from transplanting).

We planted 72 seeds (seven varieties) with harvest dates ranging from 49 days (Fourth of July Hybrid) to 75 days for Better Boy Hybrid. Our plan is to have fresh tomatoes from early July until frost in the fall.

We germinate the seeds in a germination flat. As soon as the little plants come up, I put the flat under a grow light where they remain for several weeks. We then transplant them into little fiber pots and keep them outside where they “toughen in” before we plant them in our farm garden. We transplant the fiber pots directly into the garden soil.

I have never gotten over the fun of watching a tiny tomato seed grow into a plant that is four feet tall and taller and hangs heavy with beautiful red tomatoes. It’s one of nature’s miracles. I’m reminded of it all as I enjoy a bowl of Ruth’s tomato soap on a cold winter day.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Starting tomato seeds is one of the rites of spring.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to