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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 March 9, 2024   #1
Zark
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Default Helmet Head

I have been starting my tomatoes from seed I purchased or seed I have saved. One problem that has plagued me over the years is Helmet Head. I have tried keeping them moister, and pulling the seed coat off. But this has been a pain and sometimes resulted in not growing a variety or two I wanted in the garden. The last two years I have had very few to no helmet head. In the past I would just thinly cover the seeds with starting mix. Now I cover the seed with at least 1/4" of starting mix. The tiny plants don't seem to have a problem pushing through and have been healthy. So, it seems I was not giving them enough cover. You would think that a tomato grower of many years would have known this. Never too old to learn. Looking forward to another wonderful tomato garden this season.
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Old March 9, 2024   #2
PaulF
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I put a little pressure on the mix after covering the seed thinking that the seedling has to push a little bit coming up and that knocks the seed pod off. Works sometimes and sometimes not.
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Old March 10, 2024   #3
kurt
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Default As per Dr. Male

Spit will help breakdown the head,usually a drier mix will help pull the coat off .
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Old March 10, 2024   #4
KarenO
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I think the use of heat mats and shallow planting really contribute to the issue. Heat mats artificially speed up germination before the seed coat has a chance to soften and then shallow planting in soft seedling mix doesn’t “pull” the seed coat off as it should as the seedlings emerge.
Planting a touch deeper solves most of the problem and Heat mats are not generally necessary to germinate tomato seeds just fine. Speeding things up by a couple of days really doesn’t make any difference in the long run the way it does for peppers.
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Old March 10, 2024   #5
MrBig46
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Soaking the seeds before sowing (for about 20 hours) worked for me.
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Old March 18, 2024   #6
Tormato
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I sow extremely shallow, about a dime's thickness deep. So, I get lots of helmet heads.

Saliva works for me, as it continually keeps the seed coat moist. Water dries out much quicker.

After several hours of a moistened seed coat, I gently grab the seed coat sideways between thumb and forefinger, and very lightly squeeze, attempting to at least widen the opening, if it isn't ready to come off. If nothing happens, I set the seedling aside, until perhaps the next morning.

Over the decades, it has likely been about 1,000 helmet heads, for me. My success rate is now near 100%. Except for those headless seedlings, which I generally can spot by the shape of the seed coat, and usually a narrowing of the stem where it emerges from the seed coat.
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Old March 18, 2024   #7
kurt
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Dr Carolyn Male did not call it spit,saliva has the enzymes to keep moist.Thanx for input.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #8
habitat_gardener
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tormato View Post
....Except for those headless seedlings, which I generally can spot by the shape of the seed coat, and usually a narrowing of the stem where it emerges from the seed coat.
I wonder if you mean the same thing by "headless seedlings": one variety we grew in the commercial greenhouse had only a 48% germination rate, and two of those seedlings were "bald," that is, the seed coat was gone, the tip had not been munched, but there were no seed leaves.

It took 8 of us to pot up about 1100 seedlings in less than 4 hours. Only one person pointed out a helmet head, which was easily dislodged because the plants were so wet. They started out on a heat mat and then were at the mercy of the greenhouse's overhead misters.

At home, I get lots of helmet heads. I tried covering the seeds with vermiculite instead of potting mix and still got lots.
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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #9
rxkeith
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the method i use for helmet heads is moistening with drops of water off my finger
several times a day. usually, if it is a healthy seedling, it will either push off the seed
coat by itself or i can pinch, and squeeze it off. might take two or three days. about the
only time it doesn't work is when there are no cotyledons to push it off, and no
growing tip. having a moist enough starter mix is helpful. i think helmet heads
happens more often with old seeds. still life in them, but damage has occurred over time.




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Old 4 Weeks Ago   #10
JRinPA
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I have taken to using a very small nutcracker. Cherry tomato seeds are often too small, but it works for big slicer seeds. The germination rate is much lower, I'll admit, but the ones that do come up - no helmets!
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Old 6 Days Ago   #11
ClarkB
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Just thought I'd note that after having helmet head problems last year, per the guidance some of you provided here, I planted a bit deeper (1/4"-3/8") and watered more frequently (3 day interval vs. 4) than last year and did not have a single helmet head in the 50+ seeds I started. This was in diatomaceous earth in a germination chamber with heat mat. Also had all but one seed germinate. Thanks all for the advice.
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