Starting Tomato and Pepper Plants From Seed – The Low Cost Way!
So, what’s going on around here you ask? I’m currently in the midst of potty training my 21-month-old son and making preparations for the upcoming growing season. That, in combination with all the regular cooking and cleaning that has to be done around here, caring for two greyhounds and a cat and working the odd day as a supply educator at the local daycare, has kept things busy enough!
This is our fifth growing season since we started growing and preserving our own food for our family.
The first two years we grew a variety of vegetables in raised garden beds that my husband constructed from scrap lumber. We did not start our plants from seed those years but purchased plants from a local greenhouse. While we grew a fair amount those years, they were more learning years than anything else. Learning what worked, what didn’t work and what to put our limited time and resources into. This is our third year with an in-ground garden and the first where I have been in charge of starting our tomatoes and peppers from seed.
In our growing zone, we are unable to get anything in the ground until June. We have a short growing season, so we start tomatoes and peppers inside, but sow our squash, cucumber, zucchini, beans, peas, and carrots directly into the soil when we are past the last danger of frost. We also plant onion sets and, last year, we started growing strawberry plants in one of our remaining raised beds.
I spent the fall and winter working full time as an educator at the local daycare but was laid off in February, except for the occasional call in, so I seized the opportunity to get my seeds started!
I decided to experiment with a variety of seed starting containers. I used some of the compostable 4″ pots, as well as the compostable “cell trays” that we purchased at the dollar store. I had saved individual yogurt containers for the last couple of years for this experiment, so I punched some holes in the bottom of those containers and planted some seeds in those as well.
My planting method was simple and very low tech. I mixed a cheap potting soil that we also purchased at the dollar store with enough water to make it moist as a wrung-out sponge. I then filled each container with the soil and then laid three seeds on top in a triangular pattern. I then sprinkled the seeds with enough of the soil to cover them up and covered the pots, cell trays, and yogurt containers with plastic wrap before placing them on top of the refrigerator in an attempt to provide some warmth to encourage germination. I kept the soil moist daily with a spray bottle of water.
I ended up planting 1 1/2 packs of tomato seeds and 2 packs of pepper seed. My goal was to produce the right amount of plants to grow enough food for my family of three! Time will tell if I planted the right amount of seeds.
All of the tomato seeds sprouted in 2 – 3 days and the pepper were up in 10 days. I was pleased, to say the least! Success!
I chose to remove the plastic wrap when the sprouts appeared and moved them during the day to where they would get the most sun exposure. We have an enclosed sunporch, but it is not insulated. On days where we had full sun, I would move them out to the porch, but those days were few and far between this March. My plants were looking spindly and stretched out with only the little bit of light that we were getting in my kitchen.
I also found that the seedlings in the compostable cell trays were not doing so well. They were very thin and not looking well at all. The seedlings in the 4″ compostable pots were doing a little better. The peppers seemed to be thriving in these pots, but the tomatoes not so much. Sure enough, within two weeks I had lost all of the plants in the cell trays and most of the tomato seedlings in the 4″ pots. Oddly enough, all of the pepper seedlings in the 4″ pots were just fine as well as all of both the tomato and pepper seedlings in the yogurt containers! Looks like low tech/low cost wins!
After about three weeks, all of the tomato plants had there first true set of leaves. You will see a set of leaves when your seeds first sprout, followed by the first set of what is referred to as “true leaves”.
Now came the tough part! I needed to choose which of the three seedlings in each pot to keep. I chose to pluck out the two weaker seedlings. This didn’t seem to cause any damage to my remaining plant, but research that I’ve done since, recommends that you just clip off the weaker seedlings with scissors.
I chose after four weeks to “pot up” these healthy looking seedlings into larger containers. I had 20 healthy tomato seedlings and 27 healthy pepper seedlings. Again, I did not spend much on containers. I just punched holes in the bottom of large yogurt containers and similarly sized containers, filled them with more potting soil and gently transferred the seedlings and all of the surrounding soil in their smaller starter pots to the larger containers.
I am considering eliminating the smaller starter pot step next year and planting seeds straight into a larger pot. After the sprouts emerged and became seedlings, I could choose the healthiest plant and simply clip off the two weaker with scissors. It depends on what research that you read. While some say that eliminating the smaller pot step makes no difference in the health of the plant, others say that gradually increasing the size of the pot for your seedlings helps develop a more complex root system.
We have not been getting a lot of sun in the last week here, so I’ve set up an old table underneath our large kitchen window to catch as much light as possible. Hoping it will do the trick as my tomato plants are going sideways as they reach for the light.
Now that my plants are at this point, I just need to keep them watered and exposed to as much sun as I can manage with our April weather here in Northern, New Brunswick! It’s actually snowing here today, so it’s nice to have all of these lovely green plants in the house sharing their promise of spring!
Great job Kim, keep up the good work.
Hey Kim. Great blog. I grew tomatoes and cucumbers from seed my first year but then switched to transplants. I didnt have the room in the house to do it so decided transplants were the way to go for me. I read somewhere that you should plant your tomotes seeds on Good Friday. Cant remember why lol.
I really enjoyed your blog Kim! Loved reading it and it was interesting. Hope to see more or them.