Ever wondered how commercial seedling providers get these beautiful, stalky, plants with thick stems to market? It’s called the cold treatment and has been going on at commercial greenhouses for over 30 years. Here’s how they do it.
This was taken out of the book “Greenhouse Tomatoes, Lettuce & Cucumbers” by S.H. Wittwer & S. Honma where they recommend ‘Cold Treatment’ for hardening off tomato seedlings.
The cold treatment should be started just as the first true leaves emerge, whether the seedlings are still in seed rows or pricked-off. Air and soil temperatures should be lowered to 52 to 56 deg F for ten days to three weeks. A ten to twelve day cold treatment is adequate during periods of good sunlight. Three weeks are usually necessary in the fall and early winter when most of the days are cloudy and plant growth is slow. The amount of cold during the ten-day to three week period is more important than the time of day in which it is given. Cold exposure during either the day or night, or both, is effective. Night temperatures of 52 to 56 deg F are recommended when the days are sunny and partly cloudy.
Following the cold treatment, night temperatures should be raised to 58 to 62 deg F. Cool daytime temperatures (60 to 62 deg F) should be maintained in cloudy dull weather. On bright sunny or partly cloudy days, temperatures of 65 to 75 deg F accompanied by good ventilation are suggested.
Tomato plants properly exposed to a cold treatment develop large cotyledons and thick stems, with fewer leaves formed before the first flower cluster, up to double the number of flowers in the first, and often the second clusters, and higher early and total yields.
Basically this cold treatment is used to give healthier, more stalky seedlings that will give increased yields and earlier harvests. In regards to light intensity and duration they had this to say.
The tomato is a facultative short day plant which flowers and fruits earliest if the day is not extended beyond 12 hours by artificial light. Young tomato plants do not need the light intensities of full sunlight. Where there is no overlapping of leaves, light saturation is reached at intensities from 2000 to 3000 foot candles, or about one-fifth to one-third the intensity of direct sunlight at high noon. If artificial lights are used, an intensity of at least 500 foot candles should be provided at the leaf surface. Tests with fluorescent fixtures reveal that Wide Spectrum Gro Lux is slightly superior to cool white.