Newly emerged tomato seedlings are not necessarily a pretty sight, but for the vegetable grower they’re a pleasant one. When seeds are in the ground, or in this case small peat pots, all you can do for 7 to 14 days is wait for them to emerge. Once they’ve sent their stem and first two leaves through the soil, you can start making judgments about what they need. For the most part, when you’re starting seedlings indoors in the early spring, they need to be given more visible light (next to a sunny window or under fluorescent tubes), water as needed, and eventually a weak brew of liquid fertilizer to speed their growth. And yes, there’s one other thing they need–more space. Usually I plant three seeds per pot, which means the seedlings have to be thinned. You make a ruthless decision about which seedling looks the most robust and then snip off the other two at their base. Snip them off, not pull them out, because you don’t want to disturb in any way the roots of the survivor.
The tomato seedlings that are certain to go into this year’s roof top garden are called Nebraska Wedding tomatoes. Yes, they are an heirloom variety thought to come from Nebraska, but that’s only half the story. The “Wedding” part has a number of origins. One is that despite the harsh climate in Nebraska, the plant sets its fruit by June, the month for weddings. An even more romantic notion revolves around the tradition of calling tomatoes “love apples.” And to this day, some people in Nebraska still make a habit of giving new brides a gift of Nebraska Wedding seeds. In any case, these perfectly shaped tangerine-orange colored love apples grew well on the roof last year and tasted even better when put in salads at Dinette. And so they will play a big part in tomato production on the first anniversary of the Rooftop Garden.