Monday, March 9, 2009

How to Start Tomato and Pepper Seedlings and Other Plants

Here in South Central Kansas it's time to start your Tomatoes and Peppers. In more Northern States you still have a few weeks - if you want to wait. Oklahoma planters probably started a few weeks ago and Texans are already putting them in the ground.
Not only what zone you are in is an indication of when you should plant, but also the Micro-Climates around your home. Some morning about 10 AM when the sun is shining, walk around looking for the warm spots, the cold spots, the shady spots, sunny spots. Take a cheap outdoor thermometer and a clipboard. Make a crude drawing of your home showing these various locations. Check the temperature of each spot and note it on the drawing. Is it windy or calm in this area-subject to intense wind-chill or protected from Northern cold breezes. The warm and protected areas where you get plenty of sunshine would give you an area where you might be able to put your Tomatoes and Peppers out a week or two early!

So Lets Get Started!

  1. Tomato Seeds and Pepper Seeds

  2. A #2 empty vegetable can or about 16 oz measuring cup (Pint).

  3. Small Trays with Drainage Holes - I use Aunt Jemima Breakfast TV Trays.

  4. Seedling Mix - Your own, Store Bought, or try my Recipe!.

  5. Hot water. To penetrate and mix well the seedling mix. Especially if it contains peat.

  6. A wooden pencil cut to the fit into the length of the tray if necessary.

  7. 1 Quart Freezer Bags - Larger if you use larger trays. To slide trays into.

  8. Misting Bottle. I have two. One has a fancy nozzle and Carnival Glass and the other is a cheap plastic spray bottle from the Dollar Store. I Use the later.

  9. A warm, non-drafty place to promote seed sprouting. This could be a dresser drawer. On top of the fridge, In a closet. In a box under your bed. Or even a greenhouse for those so blessed!

  10. A small 3 gallon bucket or Large mixing bowl

GrandBob,s Seedling Soil Mix.

I use the same mix for sprouting all my garden vegetables. Some people like to cover their seeds with peat moss sifted through a tea strainer. I haven't noticed much difference than using the same mix to cover fine seeds. As long as they are are the correct depth, most seedlings will come through the same soil they were planted in. Using my measuring cup, this will make enough mix to easily fill two small trays. If you think you will need double that, just double the recipe etc.

Using your 3 gallon bucket or Mixing Bowl and your Measuring Can or Cup, pour in these items to make your mix:

  1. 1 can of Perlite

  2. 1 can of Vermiculite

  3. 1 can of Cheap Sifted Potting Soil - to get the sticks out. You will have to use a soil sifter for that. Another Article!

  4. 1 can of Sifted Compost to give your seedlings some nutrients

You might might simplify by just using an inexpensive Potting Soil and Perlite or Vermiculite. Or mix a little kids Play Sand into the Potting Soil. These are the important points to remember. The soil should Drain well. The soil should be loose so the plants can emerge easily, The soil should hold moisture - only to the point of staying damp at all times and never allowed to dry out or become cold. After the plants start to emerge. Do not use fertilizer till after the plants emerge.

Mix the Soil Well before Adding Water:

Gradually add a little Hot Water (Not Boiling Please!) to the mix. About a half-cup or so at a time. Then stir thoroughly. Add more water. Continue until your soil reaches the point where a fist-full will hold itself together then slowly break into big clumps. It should not drip water. If it does, just add more potting soil or sifted compost to bring it back. Use common sense with the Hot Water. It shouldn't be so hot as to burn yourself if you have a spill. Being hot serves two purposed. To penetrate the soil mix well, and to help kill fungus' in the soil that could kill your babies as they emerge. It's a help - not a guarantee! I think it works pretty well. Always allow a little air to enter the bag you enclose the seed trays in as you will notice when I get to that stage.

Prepare the Trays

Before going any further, we should be sure to have drainage holes in the tray. I used a large spike and pounded 6 evenly spaced holes in the trays. To make it easy, I placed each tray on an old sheet of Plaster Board (Sheet Rock). This made it easy to extract the Spike

Fill each tray about 1/2 full of your soil mix

Press the soil down gently but firmly and add more soil until the tray is full to the top. Gently press down the soil again being careful to press around the sides. This firms up the soil in the tray. Remember, you will need to poke holes or make trenches so don't press down hard on the soil as to make it unworkable.
Planting Tomato and Pepper Seeds

Using a pencil end, poke holes in the soil about 1 inch apart in rows spaced 1 inch. For Tomato Seeds make about 1/4 inch deep. For Pepper Seeds about 1/2 inch deep.

Drop in Tomato Seeds or Pepper Seeds one seed per hole.

Here you see Tomato Seeds. You will notice that there are about 35 seeds planted in this tray. You could put a hole every 3/4 inch or even 1/2 inch and plant twice as many seedlings. However, the more you plant, the harder it is to extract the seedlings after they need potting. A future Article will show you how to do just that. Stay tuned.

Scatter a little soil onto the seeds enough to fill the holes.

span style="font-size:130%;">Gently press down the soil over the seeds

Using a light mist, gently moisten the soil with your spray bottle. At this point, you are ready to put a seed label in the tray and put it in a freezer bag to be set in the closet for sprouting. However, we also need to know how to handle small seeds for starting such things as Leek, Onions, Lettuce and many other vegetables and herbs.
Seeding Lettuce Starts, Onions, Leeks, and Other Small Seeded Plants
Often times we want to start things like Onions, Lettuce etc. and even Herbs in trays.
This is where the pencil really comes in handy. It can be cut to the length of the tray and it makes a small furrow at close to the correct depth. 1/4 inch Onions, Shallots, Chives, Lettuce - 1/4 inch deep. Brussels Sprouts 1/4 inch deep. Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbages - 1/2 inch deep. Herbs such as Sage,Thyme,Coriander or Cilantro and Catnip, Basil -/4 inch deep. Herbs such as Oregano, Rosemary, Tarragon, Dill and Lavender - 1/8 inch deep. Chamomile needs light to germinate. Barely cover at all!

How to Handle Small Seeds When Starting Seedlings
span style="font-size:130%;color:#000000;">
Small seeds like Lettuce, Dill and many other Herbs must be either broadcast over the soil or planted in furrows. I still use my fingers but try moving down the furrow and rubbing the seeds between my fingers and dropping into the furrow - mostly. You will in any case have a few clumps of seeds which you might be able to spread apart in the furrow or just wait till the plants come up and then weed out the extra or "dibble"
out into a new tray of moist soil to continue growing. In a near future article, I hope to show you How to "dibble" out Tomato Plants that are practically growing on top of each other. It wasn't planned that way, but I needed to save these seedlings!

Start by making furrows with your pencil about 1/2 to 3/4 inch apart. In parallel rows.
Note the depth that the seeds should be planted. Use the information give previously in this article - or look on the seed pack for information. This is the depth you wish to make the furrow. Fat advertising pencils are good because by pushing down half/way,
you have about a 1/4 inch deep furrow. All the way flush to the soil. About a1/2 inch deep. Slightly down-1/8 inch deep. Press the pencil down in the soil gently but smoothly. It will make a perfect furrow.
Finishing Up

p>After making the furrows, carefully drop the tiny seeds into the furrows, cover with soil and firm the soil down as with the larger seeds. [See planting Tomatoes and Peppers above.] Make a label, place into the tray. Don't forget to slide it into a freezer bag of the appropriate size.

Slide into a draw, closet etc. Be sure the plants never dry out. Just mist lightly if they don't seem damp on the surface. slide the trays out of the bags partially so they get fresh air for an hour every day. Below is a little cabinet I designed especially to hold small trays where the shelves can be removed or moved down for more space. I placed it at the end of my closet. Remember, most seeds need no sunlight to sprout.

Sprouting Cabinet I Build

It is very simply made out of 1X8 lumber. The bottom is extra deep so that you can place milk jugs or 2 liter bottles to add heat for the sprouting plants in case the area is cold. (A Cool Basement or Garage.

How Well Does This Method Work?These sprouting seedlings had to be removed from their Freezer Bag this evening and put under lights. These Iceberg Lettuce were planted in this tray along with the other plantings you see in this article Sunday Evening, March 7, 2008; as you can see on the plant label in the tray. These were inspected for the first time early this evening and were sprouting terrifically! Todays date, March 8, 2009. Time from seeding to sprouting plants and setting them under lights - 24 hours. Not bad at all.
Hope you enjoyed this article. comments are welcome.
Or e-mail me at

A note just in from one of my blog readers. "K" up in Pennsylvania wrote: "GrandBob, Add a little Vermiculite or Perlite to your small seed before you drop them in the furrow. It will be easier to see where your at in the furrow and it will be easier to spread the seeds out more evenly." Now why didn't I think of that...
Thanks "K"!
Isn't that a great Garden Tip folks?

Here's another. As soon as most of the seedlings have sprouted or are trying to break through the soil, remove the plastic covering completely. They must have at least 12 hours of light. But Not Direct Sunlight. A cold window with direc sunlight coming through will surely kill your seedlings. In desperation, I once used a desk lamp with a tiny 40 watt clear bulb inserted with the tomato plants in the tray - under the light almost 16 hours a day! For several weeks. I also misted them at least twice a day and kept the soil from drying out. Finally, I had a more traditional greenhouse lighting set-up to put them in. They didn't get too leggy and recovered nicely! Also, direct sunlight will come after you have adjusted them gradually to outdoor light. Moving the plants from shade to slightly sunny,to more sunny over a couple of weeks until they have adjusted to the great strength of Direct Sunlight for 12 or more hours a day. "Caution" is the word.

Here's to Spring!

Copyright RLMader 2009 - All Rights Reserved
Post a Comment