Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Start Seedling Tomatoes and Peppers Before Spring

Question: "How can I save "found Tomato and Pepper Seeds in the Garden?"

If you found some peppers and tomatoes in last years garden, they are probably pretty dried out all ready. No problem. Just cut them open and scrape the seeds out. If they don't look black and dusty gray, they probably are viable. They probably are stuck together in clumps. just try to rub them apart alittle.

How to Test Your Seeds
So as you don't plant bad seeds. After breaking them apart (probably to late to clean them up much, put about 10 or 20 seeds down on a damp paper towel. Space them apart about an inch and then put another damp (not soggy) paper towel on top. (Sandwich them) . Roll the up in a tube and put them in a plastic freezer bag. One for the tomatoes and another for the peppers. Do Not Zip the bags completely closed. A slightl opening along the end is good. Put them in a cake pan or small sack and put them in a warm closet  or on top of the refrigerator.

Testing Out Your Seeds for Viability
Once a day, open the bag mouth and alow fresh air to circulate for about an hour. If the towels seem a little dry, dampen them again. You may peek at the seeds for a few seconds. They should be swelling a little after a day or two. The tomatoes should start sprouting within 5 to 10 days. The peppers from 10 to 20 days. Also allow a fresh air break every day (about an hour) then put them away in the warm closet. - 70 t0 75 degrees. It must be warm enough for the seeds to sprout, If it is too cool, they will not sprout and will eventually just rot. When the seeds start sprouting, they should be finished within a few days. Count the seeds, if you get at least 80 percent sprouting, they are excellent - 50 or better still OK -  But not as viable. Nurserys are happy with 80 percent.

Saving your own dried seeds
As to the seeds still in the dessicated Tomatoes and Peppers found outside. I assume they are all stuck together with fibers. Just try to break them apart and rub them between your fingers so you can plant the seeds individually later. If they aren't completely dry, spread them out in a paper plate and set where it is warm and dry for at least a week then put in baggies or mailing envelopes, old pill bottles. Mail envelopes cut in half and retaped. If you are getting your seeds from fresh mature fruit - follow my instructions for Saving Seeds found at my Blog. Http://GrandBobsGarden.Blogspot.Com

Be sure to Label your Containers
Be sure to Plainly mark the out side with the name and the date  when you put them in the bag, pill bottle  etc. You can get new bottles at any pharmacy at a reasonable cost. These are great. Us address label to Mark the contents.

Starting Seedlings in your Closet
For starting inside before spring planting out, you need a dry, warm, dark place  for starting most seedlings from seeds. I use my closet. A few seeds actually need a little light to sprout! Check your seed packet.  Be sure the temperature is at least a constant 70 degrees. 75 is better. 80 degrees for Peppers. I turn on my 100 watt incondescent (regular) closet lite 24\7. until the sprouting is finished. This keeps the closet warm enough.  Check with a thermometer.

If it is too cool the seeds won't sprout and will just rot in the cool, damp soil. You might use a Kitchen Cabinet with a closed door or curtain to stop cool air drafts.  Plant the seeds at the recommende depth on the seed packet.  (1/4" for tomatos and peppers). Plant in something like a cake pan or a TV tray with plastic rap over it. Plant in rows about an inch apart, with the seeds at least an inch apart from each other in the rows. You can start a lot of seeds in a cake pan. A small TV Tray - about 60 or so. I use the ones with the cake pans with the plastic snap-on lids. But I never snap the lid on. Just lay in on.  Wether using A Cake Pan with a lid or Plastic wrap over a TV dinner tray ( cheap!) always be sure to leave a slight air gap 24/7. 1/8 to 1/4 inch is good. The idea is to keep the soil moist at all times, but allow a little fresh air to waif over the soil occassionally to prevent mold or "dampening off" that kills tiny baby plants just as they emerge.

Before Planting Seed Starter Plants Indoors
Moisten the soil. Add a little water at a time before putting it in the pans and planting your seeds. Use plastic gloves if you haven't had a tetinus shot. Mix it well with your hands. Put some in your fist and squeeze. If no water comes out or it falls apart when you open you hand, add a little more water until it hangs together a few seconds but doesn't squeeze out water. If it is to wet - add more dry soil to get the right consistency. Never Soggy. Never use Plain Dirt or Garden Soil to start seedlings. It's too heavy for the new seeds to sprout and emerge. Use a slightly sifted potting soil mix. I use 1 part sifted potting soil, 1 part Vermiculite, 1 part Perlite, Just get the large sticks and particles out of the potting soil. Cheap is good. The materials should be sterile. If using your own soil mix or reused potting soil, you may want to stick it in an oven or microwave  for a while to help kill dangerous  bacterias to plants and/ or bugs or bug eggs. Very smelly! Experiment with times and temperature. Soil should be hot to the touch. Allow to cool to room temperature before using. About 165 to 185 degrees is good. Use a meat thermometer etc.

Non Fertilizer type Potting Soil - Cheap is Good!
Don't use the fertilizer added type to start seedlings. You could use  1 part compost, 1 part Perlite, 1 part Peat or "Spagnum Moss". Mix well and dampen.  Use fertilizer only after the plants are transplanted and have gotten their real leaves. The "false leaves"  or "Cotaledens" come right out of the seeds and are the food for the new baby plants until they get their real leaves. Before true leaves, fertilizer can easily kill them.
A sprouting bean show the Cotoleden the best.

                                       Use Gloves if you are not Sure of Your Tetanus Shots!
 Mix your soil mix well and dampen it with a little warm water at a time  Use your gloves. (Gardening is a Real Danger for Older Folks who may have not had a Tetanus Shot in the last 10 years!)   Several hundred elderly die yearly after picking up tetanus from small sores on their hands. Tetanus is every present in Garden Soil. Kids are usually adequately innoculated against tetanus.

Putting Soil in the "Tray"
(I often use empty tv trays and freezer bags to cover the seed trays)

Buy a Squirt Bottle at the Dollar Store. You will lightly mist the soil at least once a day with warm water to keep it moist  Also air the tray ( Completely remove the covering) at least an hour every day and then recover.  Always leave a little opening to allow air to get in and out. If everything is in a freezer bag, I leave at least 1/2 of the "lock" lip slid open. If I use a Cake Pan with a Plastic Lid, I set the lid on loosely with a slit opening about 1/4" for air to enter and exit at all times.

"Dampening Off" fungus - a Killer Disease of
Baby Plants - is almost always present in all soils!
Keeping a little air vent at all times helps prevent "dampening off" a fungus that quickly  rots the stems of the new plants at ground level causing them to fall over and die in a day or two. It Can happen within a few hours, overnight while you sleep. There is no cure and a little constant air-flow is the best preventative. It almost always works for me.

Putting Your Seedlings Under Lights

As soon as the seedlings start to come up, Put them under lights. Direct sun at this stage may kill them. However, 100 watt Florescent Bulbs are good and can be as close as 1 or 2 inches from the seedlings without scorching the. You Can use Incandescent Lamps but they can easily burn the plants if they are close enough to be effective. A plastic tent structure around an open shelf can usually be set up. Don't let it get below 65 degrees and not over 80. Degrees. 70 is about best. To warm and the plants may grow to fasts. And become spindly and weak. cooler is best.

When to Plant Seedlings Inside for Later Planting Outside in the Spring
If you want to start your own seedlings for later planting out in the Spring, you will need to have some kind of indoor or outdoor Greenhouse Environment that will be good for at least 6 or even 8 weeks. I will be starting my seedlings in late February or Early March inside for setting outside in late April or early May into a "protected environment " ( Hoop House or under Plastic Covers.) until all danger of frost is over. Call your local nursery for planting out dates. In my Zone 6B or (7 by new "climate warming - Arbor Day - designation; that would be anywhere from May 1st to May 15. Tomatoes can go out a little earlier under protection, and peppers wont grow a drop until the weather is fairly warm. 

Where to get your Garden Plants if your not growing your own Seedlings

I use Dutch's on South Seneca here in Wichita, but all the regular nurseries can give you good information about when to set your plants out.  Ask early! They will be very busy later. But all are a good source of information. You will get little or none at the Big Box Stores. The Plant Nurserys have Plant People to help you. The Big Box stores have clerks that may or may not know anything about plants. Get on the Nurseries' Mailing List  or e-mail list to stay informed and don't be afraid to call them. The want Newbies if you have a question and Oldies if your checking for supplies etc. So get their number and Call Them.

Caution - Early Plant Sales!
About April you may see plants being set out in the "Big Box" stores for sale. Don't think you can put these out in the Garden unprotected just because their selling them now! If you will notice, they have their plants inside to start or in a protected environment outside until it really warms up in the spring. They know you have Spring Fever! 

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