What Am I Going To Do With These Tomato Seedlings?

Despite my limited success with tomatoes, I have yet again found myself with a whole gaggle of seedlings. 
I’ve got three flats of tomatoes and peppers; I think there’s 26 individual tomato plants. Goodness knows where I’m going to put them all this year. I’m thinking of trying grow bags placed up on my black asphalt-shingled roof. There’s a part of the roof that is relatively easy to access from the second-story deck. Is this pure genius or a total disaster waiting to happen? I can’t decide. One the one hand, think of the root warmth that would be generated. One the other hand, how do I keep them watered, because I’m sure they’ll dry out quickly? On the other, other hand, the slugs will probably leave them alone that high up. But on the fourth and final hand, building supports for the vines would be a a challenge and the end of season clean-up might be a nightmare.

The seedlings are looking particularly stocky this year, which I attribute to the 24/7 fake wind generated by my old cheap fan. I really do think they grow hardier when they have good solid airflow.

The tomato seedlings are starting to really go. I’m going to have to get in there and up-pot them this weekend. (If you are new to starting your own seeds, you can check out my up-potting method.) The stems are long enough to bury down and the root systems are filling out their re-used deli container pots. If you grow with kids, start a few plants in clear containers. Use plastic deli containers, old clear plastic keg cups, or whatever you might have lying around that can have a few holes drilled in the bottom. Kids think it’s really cool to see the developing root system. Actually, I think it’s pretty cool, too.

I like to transplant when the roots are filling out the pot but not yet twining too much around the bottom of the container. This guy is just perfect for up-potting.

How are your tomatoes doing? Do you have too many starts and not enough room? Would you attempt the Grow-Bag-On-Roof madness?


  1. says

    Tomatoes are able to lay out more roots from the stem, although not all can do this. You are right in that the air does promote stockier plants. The air moving the plant actually causes cell damage and in response the plant heals up laying out additional cells repairing the area. This is a good thing as you are providing something many first time seed starters forget.. a breeze. :)

    While tomatoes like warm soil, I'd worry about them roasting. The refracted heat may also cause issues. Over 90 degrees and the pollen is no longer viable (resulting in poor fruit set). Dry, container restricted area, and excessive heat would trigger stress responses which would show up as blossom end rot. If the area doesn't get too hot.. go for it.

    I had to battle something similar in CO. Our nights dropping to the 50's in summer. I used darker paving stones to try to use their radiant heat, but the scale was not large enough to be effective. Without the heat many tomato varieties are not able to fully develop their flavor.

    I always had way too many (tomato) seedlings too. I gave the extras to friends. Some had gardens, some wanted gardens. It's that whole "teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a day, show a man to fish and he's eat forever" kinda thing.

    If you have a good group of fellow gardeners.. tap into it. Seedlings, cuttings, etc. swap. Even if it is just with 1 friend.

    Wow I need decaf.

  2. says

    Go for it! If you don't experiment and try new things, you'll be like all the other backyard gardeners and who needs that? Be different!

    Think about setting them up in sub-irrigated containers like the ones some of us use that are made from re-cycled 5-gallon buckets. Even here in the desert I only have to water once a week and I NEVER have heat stress, even when the temps are above 100*F.

    Tomatoes on the roof…now you've got me thinking.

  3. says

    Anne – Good point. I don't think our NW daytime temps get as hot as yours. If we see more than a week of low 90s it's REALLY exceptional. Daytime temps from 60-low 80s over the season, nighttime temps in the high 50s (low 60s if we're lucky) are the norm here. But you make an excellent point about root cooking; the temp on a roof could get to 120 or more, I'd guess.
    BePartial – do you have a link or a post about your containers? That might be the solution!
    Ruth – I really should find a way to offset the cost of this gardening thing! That's not a bad idea.

  4. says

    Erica when did you start your maters? Mine are still weeny, I only started them a few weeks ago.

    On the rooftop discussion, I honestly think it might work! But… might be a lot of hassle. I have to say though you did plant an idea in my head because my yard has like next to no sunlight. I've calculated that I have 12 likely spots where I can put a tomato or pepper or potato bucket. That's it! But the roof… I could plant on the roof. We don't have any easy access though. I wonder if it WOULD be too much work? I think it would give my landlord a heart attack… he's only known me for a couple months and I don't think he quite grasps the lengths I am willing to go for my garden!

  5. Joanne says

    I don't know about the roof idea. While it does sound kind of neat, besides all of the cons you mentioned I'd also worry about whether the roof can take all that extra weight. Wet soil is heavy!

    You can always donate them to a school garden or local urban farm or something. You could even help out there! This year I'm in charge of my son's elementary school's garden, and in return I get to keep as much produce as I want out of it. Of course, with all of the food I grow at home, I don't need all of it, so some will go to the teacher who helps manage it and the rest will go to a local food pantry (I'm sure lots of kids will get to try some garden-fresh produce, too). It's working out very well for me, as I now have a whole other garden to put my extra seeds and starts into, and what I don't have enough of the School Garden Project gives me for free!

  6. says

    I tend to agree that it might be more hassle than it's worth. We're starting to run out of space in our garden as well. We only have 1/11 of an acre, so it's not a lot to begin with anyway. Our greenhouse is almost up and running and we'll have lots of shelving in there which will help. Recently I saw a pic of raised beds on a blog (can't remember where now), and there were 2X4's over the beds with hanging baskets. (A post on each side of the raised bed with a 2X4 horizontally over the top of the beds.) We've also attached 2X4 shelves along our fences for extra space, and you could also attach wider shelves as well. We have a flat roof outside of our bedroom we have thought about growing plants on. The only access is a window though, so until we put a door in I don't think we'll do it. Great question!

  7. says

    What about upside down planters or topsy turvy's? Then you can hang them from all sorts of places- stakes in the ground, or above your garden beds, on the fence, along the eaves, etc…

  8. says

    I love how all these commenters are concerned with the tomatoes. I would be more concerned about the lack of cocktail-in-hand while maintaining said roof tomatoes. Or, if cocktail is in hand, the resulting personal injury.

  9. says

    Only twenty six? How about fourteen varieties….at least six of each (I share) Every windowsill is covered, every pot filled ….what now for the peppers??

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