If you have ever grown tomatoes or vegetables in any northern climate (or at least attempted to), you’ve probably heard of the endless list of ways to get these tasty but often finicky and long season plants to get going. But if there is anything you have heard, probably the number one comment is that you can’t plant the seed directly in the ground? Right? Gardeners can be intimidated by the thought of growing seeds. But some annuals thrive off this, and surprisingly tomatoes and peppers are no exceptions.
Maybe you do not have the facilities or time to start indoors. Or maybe you have tried, but come up disappointed by the spindly little plants that can’t adapt to the outside world. Direct sowing may be a great option for you.
Why plant by seed?
You may be wondering why even bother? Why not buy a fully-grown plant from the store? Planting by seed allows for a greater option in variety choices than purchasing a started plant. Often stores only offer a few varieties. Planting by seed also produces plants that are already acclimated to the surrounding environment. Also, planting by seed can be rewarding and not to mention far easier than you may think!
When to direct sow?
Since tomatoes and peppers have a long growing season, meaning that they need more days to grow to reach maturity. This means that you will need to plant the seed as early as you can without killing the seed by the cold soil. Seed packets should give you some indication of when to plant the seed. But generally, after your first frost.
How to plant?
Choose soil that is well drained and aerated. This can be a large garden, container, or raised bed just as long as the seeds have ample room, drainage, and oxygen. Follow the depth recommendations on your seed packet. It is good to plant a little thick, this ensures that you will have seed germination and later you will simply thin the seedlings.
Although not required it may be wise to cover your newly planted seeds with row covers, light tarp, or bed sheet. Doing so will help raise the soil temperatures for quicker germination – which also transfers into earlier producing plants. It may also protect from unexpected frost and extreme temperatures.
Be sure to take the cover off periodically to allow for airflow and allow for water to reach the plants. Also, be careful during high-temperature days to not scald the seed. Once the seeds are about an inch tall remove the covers so they can acclimate to the environment and develop strong structures.
Otherwise, watch the little seedlings grow! Once they develop into three-inch-tall plants begin to lightly thin them out by cutting the plant out with a pair of scissors. Avoid pulling the seedlings out because it may damage the fragile roots of neighboring plants. By the time they are six inches tall ensure that there is at least 24 inches between each plant.
As they grow, trellis them by using a variety of options, or if they are a determinate variety let them bush out naturally.
Most of all enjoy the process, gardening is a learning experience and often it is far easier than you may think!