The northwest climate is not exactly ideal for warm weather plants like tomatoes. Spring is long, cold, and wet. Yes, there are warm days here and there, tempting winter-weary gardeners into planting out their tender starts, but only to see them cruelly blighted and destroyed by the inevitable cold rains that follow. You can tell, I have some sore memories in that regard. Savvy Seattleites wait until Memorial Day before planting their tomatoes.
The warm weather season effectively only lasts from June through late August. We could just accept it and limit ourselves to those crops that do really well: brassicas, potatos, and greens. But we do so love our garden fresh tomatoes. Season extension is the key. This begins with indoor seed starting.
Our first few years were frustrating. Natural light levels in spring are simply not sufficient to develop strong starts. We ended up with leggy, weak starts that barely survived transplanting and performed poorly in the garden. We finally got serious and built a seed starting shelf in the basement.
It’s really quite simple: a fold-away wooden frame with plywood shelves, an array of cheap fluorescent tubes, a small fan, and a couple of timers. The difference is dramatic. Our starts are now as good or better than those that come from professional nurseries. And we have enough space to satisfy all of our own needs, and grow a bunch of extra starts to delight our neighbors.