BLT’s and stuffed peppers – as I thought about starting tomatoes and peppers from seed, my two favorite summer dishes popped into my head (and made me hungry). If you like either of these foods, or similar ones, you might want to think about starting them from seeds so you can make BLT’s and stuffed peppers this summer with fresh-off-the-vine vegetables from your own garden. Peppers and tomatoes are wonderful summer vegetables that are easy to start from seed for your garden. Let me share some of my tips for starting them.
When starting seeds, the main thing to think about is timing. Tomatoes and peppers should be started about 6 to 8 weeks before they are to go outside (after the last frost). Timing the seeding right will reduce the number of times you will need to repot the seedlings before they can be planted outside.
Seeds can be started easily and with something as simple as a cut down milk jug and some potting mix. Garden centers, like Dundee, will carry an array of different seeding trays and containers for seeds to be started in, depending on the plants you are seeding, but almost any container that holds soil and allows extra water to drain out can be used.
Once you have your container, fill it with your 1 – 1.5 inches of soil mix. Your soil should contain some peat moss to help keep the seeds moist as they germinate. Wet your soil before you fill your container. Then the soil will not settle as much in the container. Place the seeds on the top of the soil and cover with ¼ inch of the soil mix and gently pat down.
Cover the top of the container with a plastic dome if you are using a seeding tray. Oftentimes the tray and dome come as a set. If there is no dome, you can use a plastic wrap. Vent plastic wrapped trays to prevent condensation from forming. The seeds will start to germinate in 10-14 days depending on the variety of tomato or pepper you are planting. Check your seeds every 2-3 days and keep the soil moist. This can be done easily with a spray bottle in the beginning, so that the soil doesn’t become too moist. Don’t allow your soil to become too wet as this can result in the seedlings “damping off” (a fungus condition that causes the stem to weaken and the seedling to keel over).
After the seeds have germinated (sprouted), the containers will need to be placed in the light. Florescent lights can be used or place the containers near the window. Florescent lights should be placed within 6 inches of the top of the soil and should be on 12- 16 hours daily (timers can be used for the lights). The lights should be kept 6 inches above the top of the plants, so the lights will be need to be adjusted regularly as the plants grow. If your seedlings are by a window, make sure to turn the container every day. If you don’t turn the tray your seedlings will keep reaching for the sun and grow crooked.
Depending on when you sowed your seeds, you may need to replant seedlings before they can go outside. Place transplants in slightly larger containers to give them room to grow. This will keep the plants happy and healthy.
Before you plant your vegetables in the garden, they need to be “hardened off.” This means getting them used to the outside conditions before you actually plant them in the ground so they won’t get sunburned. Place them in a shady location for the first few days so they get used to the outdoors and bring them back inside at night. This usually needs to be done for about a week or two depending on the weather.
After your plants are hardened off, they can be planted in your garden or container. Carefully monitor the soil moisture levels, especially during the first week as the plants adapt to their new surroundings. This would also be the ideal time to place a tomato cage or something similar around the plants.
Happy Planting. Enjoy your summer produce and share!!