I usually like to start my seeds in a big pot and start a lot of seeds in the pot and divide later, it makes for competition between the starts and it is easy to see the strongest ones that will later produce better. Even if you have a 100% germination you will still have some plants that are weaker and need to be thinned out later, I like to do this early as to avoid root transplant shock.
Step 1: When Is It Time to Transplant Your Starts.
These are 4 week old seedlings that have been outside since they
germinated in a germination bed. They are now too tall for the base of the bed and are also needing to get divided to enable them to gain stronger root systems. As you can see in this photo they are way over crowded and will soon be root bound, which if you wait too long to separate them it is much more stressful and run the risk of losing more to transplant shock.
Step 2: Remove From Pot
You can gently rub the outside of the pot to get the soil and roots to release from the side of the pot. Removing them from the pot shows that there is good root growth and that they are ready to be transplanted to a small individual pot.
Step 3: Good Root Growth
As you can see after you remove them from the pot there are lots of roots that are all entangled and need to be separated so that they can grow more individual root systems.
Step 4: Tools to Seperate the Roots
I usually use a small fork to separate the bundle down the middle first then the rest will easily separate by hand.
Step 5: Healthy Roots
As you can see there are lots of healthy roots in the bottom of the pot
that is what is going to make your plants be strong. Healthy roots are needed for good tomato production.
Step 6: Dividing the Root Ball.
Each plant has its own root structure and will thrive on its own. As
you can see it is very easy to separate each plant for transplanting. Start with a single divide and then divide down to each individual tomato plant.
Step 7: Pots to Re-pot the Tomatoes in
The pots I am going to put these in will hold four to a section for now, it is still very early and I will transplant them at least one more time probably twice before outside growing season is warm enough to put them in the garden without protection. I like my tomatoes to come out of gallon size pots for planting in the garden, they don’t have to be that big but I just like them that big.
Step 8: Planting in the New Pot.
I will fill each one of these cells with some more peat moss and sand to help stimulate the root growth for a few more weeks. Once they are filled I will poke four holes in each cell and place a single plant in each hole making sure to plant as deep as the pot will allow.
Step 9: Feeding the Transplants
The final step after everything has been transplanted is to give them a good feeding, for this I use my special compost tea mixture I mix up. It is a mixture of manure, compost, little bit of wood ash and water. For those who do not like the smell of manure tea or compost tea you can add one tablespoon of used coffee grounds to the water and it will smell like coffee, as coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen it will not hurt the plants just make your nose feel better. This tea will be used two to three times a week to water the tomato plants to keep them growing strong until they can be planted in the garden.
Step 10: Don't Forget to Label What You Planted.
One final thing don’t forget to make what variety you have just transplanted it will make for easier records of what kind of tomato you liked and which ones did well in your garden if you remember what variety you planted.