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New to growing your own tomatoes? This is the forum to learn the successful techniques used by seasoned tomato growers. Questions are welcome, too.

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Old December 23, 2018   #1
PlainJane
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Default What kind of heat mat are you using?

Being in N FL I usually just start my seeds outside. For tomatoes I’ve been buying organic starts through the mail. I just didn’t have a good place to keep lights, trays, etc. while we were renting.

Now I’m making the shift to starting all my own seeds. We have a workshop room attached to the garage where I’ll be setting up. Temperature in there will be on the cool side (as opposed to the house.)

I’ve got seeds, mix, trays, pots, fan, timer and lights. I don’t have a heat source picked out yet so would like input as to what brands you’re using.

There will be 2 48” light fixtures. I only need heat under one of them.

Thanks, folks!
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Old December 23, 2018   #2
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I don't recall the brand of mat I have, but will offer a piece of advice no matter what brand you do get. That is to run it with a tray of damp seed starter on it, but no seed and double check the temps. That may save you poaching some tender babies in the future. Mine have a temp. control, but I tested them each time I break them back out, just in case of a failure, either up or down.
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Old December 23, 2018   #3
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VERY good advice - thank you!
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Old December 23, 2018   #4
oldman
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You'll probably want to just start with a startard 20"x10" seed starting heat mat that you can find in any garden center - - even WalMart's this time of year. 20x20 aand larger are available too. Get clear plastic domes for the trays you'll be using with the heat mat too.

These are basically a power cord, some low power heat - maybe 12W, and plastic to keep the heating element flat and waterproof. The last quite a while, but if you fold them, roll them too tightly to store them or set something really heavy on them you can damage the heating element resulting in only part of the mat heating up or none of it working. Damaged mats aren't usually a fire hazard or anything similar, but you should get rid of them because they are less safe than a functional mat and, most importantly, they're broken and you can't fix them.

When you buy a new one, do it locally and check that it's fully functional as soon as you can after purchase. Lay it out on a flat surface, follow any directions printed on it, and plug it in. It should get warm, but not hot. 90F range. You can write "it works" all over a couple pieces of notebook paper in lemon juice and put those on the map to test if you want to recapture a moment from childhood. It won't heat clear to the edge right away, but if there are big cold spots that persist you need to return it.

If you need more than two heat mats I'd recommend upgrading to a 48x20 just for power cord management.

Tomatoes will germinate without a heat mat most of the time, it just takes a little longer. Peppers need the extra heat, and for most of us need to be started early to give them enough growing time to fruit. But growing you own plants from seed can be as much fun as gardening outdoors.

You may eventually want to move up to thermostatic controlled heat or something fancier, but the important thing is to know what the seed you're growing needs and give them the best version of that you can. What the seed needs for optimal growth is more specific than what it needs to get started. Your real goal is plants to plant out. Thermostats and hydroponics and whatnot are overkill for one flat. But a little warmth is a good thing.

Last edited by oldman; December 23, 2018 at 10:49 AM.
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Old December 23, 2018   #5
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I used a heating pad for people one year it worked great but sort of complicated to use and set up without overheating the seeds.
Lots of thermometers set up to monitor the heat.
Set seed tray up higher over pad to regulate heat.
Worth
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Old December 23, 2018   #6
PlainJane
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oldman View Post
You'll probably want to just start with a startard 20"x10" seed starting heat mat that you can find in any garden center - - even WalMart's this time of year. 20x20 aand larger are available too. Get clear plastic domes for the trays you'll be using with the heat mat too.

These are basically a power cord, some low power heat - maybe 12W, and plastic to keep the heating element flat and waterproof. The last quite a while, but if you fold them, roll them too tightly to store them or set something really heavy on them you can damage the heating element resulting in only part of the mat heating up or none of it working. Damaged mats aren't usually a fire hazard or anything similar, but you should get rid of them because they are less safe than a functional mat and, most importantly, they're broken and you can't fix them.

When you buy a new one, do it locally and check that it's fully functional as soon as you can after purchase. Lay it out on a flat surface, follow any directions printed on it, and plug it in. It should get warm, but not hot. 90F range. You can write "it works" all over a couple pieces of notebook paper in lemon juice and put those on the map to test if you want to recapture a moment from childhood. It won't heat clear to the edge right away, but if there are big cold spots that persist you need to return it.

If you need more than two heat mats I'd recommend upgrading to a 48x20 just for power cord management.

Tomatoes will germinate without a heat mat most of the time, it just takes a little longer. Peppers need the extra heat, and for most of us need to be started early to give them enough growing time to fruit. But growing you own plants from seed can be as much fun as gardening outdoors.

You may eventually want to move up to thermostatic controlled heat or something fancier, but the important thing is to know what the seed you're growing needs and give them the best version of that you can. What the seed needs for optimal growth is more specific than what it needs to get started. Your real goal is plants to plant out. Thermostats and hydroponics and whatnot are overkill for one flat. But a little warmth is a good thing.
What a lot of great advice! I’m baby boomer stock but had never heard of the heat/lemon juice thing. Sounds like a great way to check for evenness of temperature.

The room isn’t heated but we can put out one of our little ceramic space heaters if we get a prolonged cold spell. Since I’ll be starting eggplant, peppers and tomatoes I figured I should plan on bottom heat.
I’m itching to get going on warm weather crops ... who isn’t!
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Old December 23, 2018   #7
PlainJane
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Worth1 View Post
I used a heating pad for people one year it worked great but sort of complicated to use and set up without overheating the seeds.
Lots of thermometers set up to monitor the heat.
Set seed tray up higher over pad to regulate heat.
Worth
Worth, I thought of stealing one of my husband’s heating pads but when I checked them, they all automatically shut off after a couple of hours. (Lol, I would have loved a ‘free’ solution)

Your comments have reminded me I need to find my thermometer.
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Old December 23, 2018   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PlainJane View Post
Worth, I thought of stealing one of my husband’s heating pads but when I checked them, they all automatically shut off after a couple of hours. (Lol, I would have loved a ‘free’ solution)

Your comments have reminded me I need to find my thermometer.
Mine shut off automatically too.
I used a towel to trap the heat.
Not really practical but it worked in a pinch.
Plus it was in the house.
Other options are a heat light placed at a distance.
Those red IR brooder and bathroom heat lights.
Used it to regulate my fermenting crocks temperature in a cold house.
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Old December 23, 2018   #9
PlainJane
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Worth1 View Post
Mine shut off automatically too.
I used a towel to trap the heat.
Not really practical but it worked in a pinch.
Plus it was in the house.
Other options are a heat light placed at a distance.
Those red IR brooder and bathroom heat lights.
Used it to regulate my fermenting crocks temperature in a cold house.
Thank you for all these ideas. There might be a heat light kicking around the garage ... DH is a ‘saver’, lol. I’m trying to do this without giving him another project.
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Old December 23, 2018   #10
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This topic surfaces from time to time, I suggest the following readings :
http://www.tomatoville.com/showthread.php?t=46738
http://www.tomatoville.com/showthread.php?t=34299
http://www.tomatoville.com/showthread.php?t=31459



All the best
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Old December 23, 2018   #11
PlainJane
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Thank you so much!
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Old December 23, 2018   #12
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Heat mats are over-rated for germination of tomato seeds, peppers need a little more heat but still normal house temperatures will do in a pinch. Even if it takes a few days longer, most of us start our seeds too early anyhow!
Having said that, I personally put my seeds about 4-8" above my ceramic radiant heat units which is usually around 80-85F at that height. Some people germinate above their cable box, modem or refrigerator which are usually warm spots within the house. You don't need a tray or soil to germinate in, just a moist paper towel or coffee filter placed inside an unsealed baggie (checked daily after 4 days). I can just hold up a coffee filter toward a light and see if there are any sprouted seeds inside. Over the years, I have not really noticed any difference in germination rates for baggie vs soil/media germination methods. Just plant the seeds as they sprout.
I was talking with a fellow a few weeks ago and he actually puts the seeds in moist napkins, seals them in a ziploc sandwich bag and then lets it float around in his 82F tropical fish tank. I've never fully sealed a baggie before, but he says it works for him.
Germinating several hundred seeds takes very little space (~1-2 sq ft). Finding the warm/room temperature space for growing the sprouts to 8 weeks old (or older) is where the struggle comes in. In Florida, your unheated workshop / garage area would probably be good for that with enough lights.
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Old December 24, 2018   #13
ChristinaJo
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I put my seeds on the guest bed and turned the electric blanket on low..... redneck ,I know, but it worked. When sprouted, put them under grow lights.
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Old December 24, 2018   #14
PlainJane
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rhines81 View Post
Heat mats are over-rated for germination of tomato seeds, peppers need a little more heat but still normal house temperatures will do in a pinch. Even if it takes a few days longer, most of us start our seeds too early anyhow!
Having said that, I personally put my seeds about 4-8" above my ceramic radiant heat units which is usually around 80-85F at that height. Some people germinate above their cable box, modem or refrigerator which are usually warm spots within the house. You don't need a tray or soil to germinate in, just a moist paper towel or coffee filter placed inside an unsealed baggie (checked daily after 4 days). I can just hold up a coffee filter toward a light and see if there are any sprouted seeds inside. Over the years, I have not really noticed any difference in germination rates for baggie vs soil/media germination methods. Just plant the seeds as they sprout.
I was talking with a fellow a few weeks ago and he actually puts the seeds in moist napkins, seals them in a ziploc sandwich bag and then lets it float around in his 82F tropical fish tank. I've never fully sealed a baggie before, but he says it works for him.
Germinating several hundred seeds takes very little space (~1-2 sq ft). Finding the warm/room temperature space for growing the sprouts to 8 weeks old (or older) is where the struggle comes in. In Florida, your unheated workshop / garage area would probably be good for that with enough lights.
Well, if I don’t settle on a heat mat I’ll do baggies on top of the fridge and a ceramic space heater next to the area. The ‘floating baggies of seeds in the tank’ visual makes me lol.
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Old December 24, 2018   #15
PlainJane
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Quote:
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I put my seeds on the guest bed and turned the electric blanket on low..... redneck ,I know, but it worked. When sprouted, put them under grow lights.
Hahaha, that’s great!
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