When do you start your seeds under grow lamps?
I don't use grow lights these days. Just about all my starts begin life above my refrigerator. It is consistently warmer up there but not very light. I have to check them a couple times a day to know when to get the seedlings into a good south window. It isn't so warm there because the room is cooler but they have (nearly) sufficient light. After a couple of weeks, they can go into a heated greenhouse.
I try to grow the plants a little cool because so often, our spring weather is cloudy. Yes, supplemental lighting would usually help but setting it up is always a little awkward.
How many do you plant?
I have lots of starts because I have some to give my neighbors, some to sell, and about 60 tomato plants will go in my garden.
What is your process--from seed to garden?
The seed is started in fairly ordinary, organic potting soil in cookie boxes from the supermarket. Once they go in that south window, the lid comes off and is used as a tray. True leaves prompts me to get the cookie boxes out into the greenhouse. When the dangers from crowding get too high, and the soil is getting a little tired by then anyway, I will move the seedlings into 4-packs. They will stay in those, 48 to a tray until overcrowding prompts another move - into 3 1/2" pots.
By now, I'm running out of room on the greenhouse bench. The potted plants can go into a high tunnel where overnight heat will only come from a little electric heater and be moved around by a fan. This heat will only be on to keep the plants well above freezing on cold, spring nights.
Hardening off may make use of the big tunnel or little "hoopies" on the lawn. Being so close to the outdoor air will afford little protection from the cold. As soon as I think they can stay out overnight without protection, the plants are ready for the open garden.
What varieties do you start from seed?
About 25 varieties have been started each year but there may be less in 2015. It's fun growing so many varieties but I have to get decent production. Something that the hybrids can do is stand up to conditions that will trip up some heirlooms.
I've enjoyed reading about your experiences with Fantastic, Lakngulf. It was one of the varieties I relied on a good long time. I don't have one that is rated any earlier but Big Beef seems to be more likely to come in a little earlier with ripe tomatoes in my garden. The hybrid cherries are also hard to beat, IMO.
Well more than half of the 20-some varieties will be non-hybrids even if they are only represented by 1 or 2 plants in the garden. I'm looking forward to another season to stabilize 2 unintentional crosses that occurred to others in their gardens and were sent to me. Also, another gardener "dehybridized" a variety I have never grown. I'm curious to grow the original F1 to see how it does since its offspring had such a good season in my garden. Some heirlooms are like old friends and will be welcomed back.
Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler. ~ Albert Einstein