Starting tomato, and/or pepper, seeds at home is very rewarding, and can be quite educational for both children and adults. Growing tomato/pepper plants from seed is very simple, though there is a little work involved. Starting your own tomato/pepper seeds is also cheaper than buying plants from the local nursery or garden center.
Plan and Prepare
Be sure to decide which varieties of tomatoes/peppers you are going to grow and purchase your seeds a few months ahead of time. This way you can be sure that you have your seeds in time and you get the varieties you want. It is also a good idea to purchase the rest of the supplies you will need well in advance to be sure you have them and are ready for planting time. Here is a basic check list of the things you’ll need to get started:
Select Your Seed Starting Containers
Any container will work for starting your seeds, as long as the seeds can get sufficient water while allowing for plenty of drainage. We use to use the plastic containers from yogurt, pudding, etc. with holes punched in the bottom for drainage. We also collect and save any plastic nursery containers we find, we use the larger ones when our seedlings have outgrown their starting pots before the garden is ready for planting.
We now start all of our seeds in 2.25″ peat pots. Many of the seedlings we start in these never need to be potted up into larger containers. Starting seeds in these also makes planting time a lot easier, just place the entire container into your planting hole and cover with soil. If you do happen to have to pot your seedling up into a larger container, simply drop the starting pot into your larger container and fill with more starting mix.
If you do reuse old plastic containers it is a good idea to sterilize them in a 10% bleach solution.
What Kind of Starting Mix Should I Use?
Many people have asked what a good soil mix is for starting seeds and if they can just dig up some soil from their gardens to start seeds in. Garden soil is too heavy and compacts easily making hard for your tender tomato/pepper seedling to grow, and can also harbor organisms that can cause diseases. It is best not to use soil directly out of your garden. A good organic seed starting mix can be found at most local nurseries, these are generally soil-less mixes containing peat, vermiculite and perlite.
You can also make your own soil-less starting mix that will keep your seedlings healthy and growing strong, here is an article with a recipe for a good starting mix.
Planting Your Tomato/Pepper Seeds
Try not to plant to early to avoid plants from becoming root bound or spindly. Start your seeds indoors 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Fill your container with dampened seed mix and tamp down to get air pockets out. Plant your seeds no more than 1/4 inch deep and lightly tamp down again. Gently water to thoroughly moisten mix. You want your seed mix to remain moist, but not soaking wet. You can cover your containers with a plastic bag, leaving it open to allow for some air flow, to help retain moisture.
Place your tray of containers in a warm spot, light is not necessary at this point, and wait for your seeds to germinate. If the temperature remains warm germination will occur within 5 – 10 days. Check daily for seeds to sprouting. When the first seeds have sprouted remove plastic covering and place in a well-lit area. Your seedlings will need 6 – 8 hours of sunlight, a grow light can be used if you do not have an area with adequate sunlight. When daytime temperatures stay in the 50’s you can begin taking them outside during the day to harden off.
Hardening off is the process of getting your seedlings use to the outside conditions before they reach their final home in the garden. To harden off your seedlings, begin by taking them outside and placing them in a shaded area where they will not receive any direct sunlight, and bring back in at night before temps. drop below 50 degrees. Placing your seedlings in direct sunlight at this stage would scorch and kill them. After 5 – 7 days of spending the days in the shade slowly start moving them into the light. Every couple days move them to an area that receives more light than before until you have your seedling under direct sunlight, this process should take another 7 – 10 days.
When the daytime and nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees, and any chance of frost has past, your seedlings are ready to be planted in the garden.