Mid March is the magic time of year for vegetable gardeners in the Pflugerville area. By mid March we’re almost guaranteed to have seen our last frost of the season. This means plants can go into the ground with minimal risk of loss to cold weather.
Why am I thinking about March 15 on January 14? Because it’s going to take about 8 weeks to grow our pepper and tomato transplants from seed. If we get the seeds started today, the plants should be big enough to go outside as soon as March 15 comes around. I’ll show you how we do it at the feeds store and how you can do it at home.
Start with a loose potting soil with lots of peat. We use a seed starting mix. Fluff up the soil and break up the clumps to get the soil ready to fill the planting tray.
You can plant into many different types of containers. We are planting in a tray with 128 little cells but you can plant into clean six-pack trays, peat pots, newspaper pots, or small paper cups. (Since we are starting with such small cells, we will transplant these into larger pots before they go outside.)
Fill your cells to the top with loose soil, then tamp the soil down so that you have about 1/4 inch ‘head space’. We put a big pile of soil on top of our empty tray of cells then scrape it off to fill up all the trays. It’s a bit like scooping up a big cup of flour when you’re baking then leveling it off with a knife. Just as with baking, don’t compact the dirt when you fill it to the top. Then we place an empty tray of cells on top of the filled one and press just a bit to compact the soil.
Place one seed in each cell. There are some little gizmos you can buy to shake out the seeds one at a time, but after doing a lot of seeding we have found it’s easier for us just to use our hands or shake the seeds out of the package one at a time.
Cover the top of the seeded seed tray with some more of the soil (not quite up to the top of the cell) and water it in. I use a big spray bottle to water the plants so I don’t wash the soil and seeds out of the tray.
Peppers and tomatoes seeds need quite a bit of warmth to germinate. They would really like to have a soil temperature of 80-90 degrees. We put our trays under a grow lamp inside where it’s warm but probably not quite to an optimal temp. Next year we hope to have a heated greenhouse to use, so if you have one of those that’s where the seedlings would be happiest. If you don’t have a grow light, or a greenhouse, you can put your trays in a sunny window in a warm room. At lower temperatures just expect germination to be slower and may not be 100 percent.
Keep the soil moist but not wet. Feed with a gentle liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks when the plants get their first true leaves. Wait patiently for spring.
The reason why gardeners in Central Texas are so crazy mad to get a jump start on their peppers and tomatoes is because we want to get our plants outside early enough to get as many fruit set before the weather turns so hot the plants stop setting fruit. Once the daily highs reach 90 degrees and above peppers and tomatoes and eggplants stop setting fruit. They will ripen the fruit they have set and the plant can stay alive and healthy, but they will stop making fruit.