The soggy, dreary weather that we have experienced over the past week has many dreaming of sunny, hot days in the garden. For those dreaming of juicy, ripe tomatoes and sweet or spicy peppers in the garden, now is the time to set that dream in motion. It is now time to sow tomato and pepper seeds indoors. For seed starting to be a success, seeds need four things: a good base, light, heat, and water.
Base: Start with a study, watertight tray and fill the tray with seed starting containers. Fill each planting cell with a high-quality seed starting mix. Dry soil can compact and settle after it is watered. Pre-moisten the soil before you fill the cells to ensure the proper amount of soil is added to each cell. Plant 2-3 seeds per cell. The back of the seed packet will indicate the proper planting depth. Tomatoes and peppers should be sown ¼ inch deep. Cover the entire tray with a clear plastic tray cover or plastic wrap. The covering makes a small greenhouse which creates a warm, humid environment for the seeds. After the seeds have sprouted and grown an inch or two, remove the cover and thin the seedlings to one plant per cell.
Light: A sunny, south or west-facing window often provides sufficient light for your seeds, but grow lights will provide more consistent and brighter light. Garden centers sell a variety of grow light set-ups, but you can also use regular shop lights with cool white or daylight light bulbs. If your seedlings start to lean toward the light as they grow, rotate the trays every few days to ensure the plants grow straight and strong.
Heat: Tomatoes and peppers need heat to germinate and grow. A sunny spot can provide heat for your seedlings, or you can give them an extra boost by placing your trays on heated seed mats.
Water: Seeds need evenly moist, but not soggy, soil to germinate. Watering from above can disrupt the seeds and move them around; therefore, it is best to spray them lightly with a spray bottle or water them from below. Soil is like a sponge, so if you put water in the bottom tray, the soil will soak it up and the seeds will stay moist. After the soil has soaked up the water, drain off any extra water from the bottom of the tray, so the seedlings don’t get too soggy. One way to avoid over or under watering is to create a self-watering seed tray. Directions on how to create a self-watering seed tray can be found on the Fix This Facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1834234593517642&id=1551563248451446 .
A little prep work and seed babying now will help satisfy the spring gardening itch and will give you a great head start on your summer garden!