So you’ve started your seeds indoors and are watching them grow. When the seedlings are 2 to 3 inches tall and have several sets of true leaves, its time to move them to deeper containers or individual pots so they have room to grow. Fill the new containers with pre-moistened mix. With the help of a fork thrust to the bottom, lift the seedlings gently from your germinating container. Try to get all the roots and disturb them as little as possible. Make a planting hole in the new container and nestle the seedling into its new home a little deeper than it was originally. If your tomato plants are spindly with long stems, bury the stems right up to the topmost cluster of leaves and new roots will grow along the buried stems. Gently press the mix around the transplanted seedlings and water them gently to settle the soil. Now is the time to begin feeding your plants once a week because starting mixes contain little if any plant food and the seedlings will have used up the entire stored food source available in its mother seed. Use a good liquid concentrate organic fertilizer diluted to half normal recommended strength. Continue to give your rapidly growing seedlings as much light as possible and rotate them regularly wo they grow evenly and don’t lean in one direction.
In 3 or 4 weeks or when the weather outdoors has warmed into the 50 degree F or 10 degree C range at night, it’s time harden off or gradually acclimate your seedlings to outdoor conditions. Put them outside in a protected shady spot for half a day at first, then 2 or 3 full days, then gradually move them into full sun, starting with the mornings then all day long. Plant to transplant into the garden in late afternoon or on a hazy or cloudy day to minimize stress. Firm the soil around the plants and water well. Keep your young plants moist but not soggy. Mulch them with a good thick layer of compost, well-aged manure, Sea Soil, Salish Soil or other organic materials. This will produce the even moisture balance needed for healthy, disease-free growth and early big fruit sets and discourage weeds.
(from Bob Tuckey’s The Natural Gardener March 2012)