Seed Starting: Start Your Own for More Variety at the Best Price

Last year I didn’t start any plants from seed. Most of my transplants were free from friends or were volunteers I moved from other parts of the garden, except for deeply discounted flowers and vegetables I found at garage or greenhouse clearance sales.

Free is always the best price and deeply discounted is almost as good, but chance dictates what will be in your salad or salsa (which isn’t always bad—at least you have salad and salsa)!

This year I am starting seeds again. I dug into my seed stash and bought some seed. I even found a better deal on seed at one of our local Farm and Fleet store (see April 11, 2011 blog, “Seeds and Cold Frames ”)—five cents a packet for American Seed!

I love unusual tomatoes but hate to pay big prices for heirloom plants. I have found that it is much cheaper to start my own. Tomato seeds are viable for five or more years if you store them in a place that doesn’t get temperature extremes. I keep my seeds on the top shelf of my bedroom closet. Some people keep seed in tightly sealed glass jars in their refrigerators.

I also love to grow a variety of sweet and mildly spicy peppers. I want more variety and fewer plants. Some bigger nurseries will let you mix and match, but I don’t have one of these nurseries nearby. Considering the price of gas these days, it is cheaper for me to start my own transplants. Pepper seeds also remain viable for many years when stored correctly, so I always get my money back on the seed.

Planting tomato and pepper seed is simple. You can follow the instructions on the seed packet or follow my example here.

  1. Start with a sterile seed starter mix and moisten it with enough warm water so that it holds together in your hand after you make a fist but still crumbles apart easily. (This is the same test you use with garden soil to see if it is dry enough to plant in.)
  2. Put the damp starter mix in whatever type of container you wish to use and tamp it down lightly. Just make sure the containers are clean. If you are reusing containers, be sure to dip them in a 10% bleach solution. I use bigger containers for tomatoes and peppers because the more root on the transplant the sooner it will recover and start growing and setting fruit.
  3. Label each planting container after you have filled them but before you plant in them.
  4. Use the top of a pen, pencil, or dowel to make a ¼ inch dent in the starter mix.
  5. Lay two seeds in the dent and cover with more mix.
  6. Press down lightly on covering mix so that seed is definitely in contact with mix and there is no air pocket around the seed.

Continued Care of Your Seedling Tomatoes and Peppers

  • Tomato and pepper seed germinate best with constant gentle bottom heat. You want temperatures as close to 80°F as possible. I put my seeds in a covered seed tray and place them on a heating mat with a thermostat. My set up is pretty fancy but I got the same results by putting the seed tray on top of my refrigerator! Any warm dark place will do.
  • Tomatoes and peppers don’t need light to germinate, but as soon as you see the little green loops of the emerging seedlings set them in a warm, bright window or turn on the full-spectrum fluorescent lights. Make sure the source of light is close or strong and bright enough—this mean a really sunny window sill—so your seedlings don’t get long and leggy from reaching toward the light.
  • Uncover the seed tray and remove from heat when the seedlings are totally out of the planting mix. For sturdier seedlings, set up a small fan a distance from your seedlings, and let it blow on them gently. Move the fan or the seedlings periodically to vary the prevailing “wind.”
  • Finally, don’t let the seedlings dry out. You may want to add some fertilizer to the water you give them.

Try starting your own tomatoes and peppers this season! Begonia

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