How to Successfully Grow Tomato and Pepper Plants from Seed

Posted by N. Astrid Hoffman on

The Secrets to Growing Tomatoes and Peppers

Growing your own tomatoes and peppers from seed is such a reward.  Once well established, these plants will provide more fruit than you know what do with!   We have found that many of our tomato plants reseed themselves (surviving cold winters) and germinating in the spring!

The instructions below can be used for golden berries as well as ground cherries.

The key to a successful harvest begins with the seed.  Choose your seeds from a reputable high-quality seed source.  We do not recommend saving seed from store or market bought vegetables, as they may be hybrids. 

Tomatoes and peppers need a long growing season.  Properly start these sensitive plants indoors, about 6 -10 weeks before your last frost date.  For those planting your gardens in the fall, check in with your local extension office for advisable planting dates.  

1. We recommend using seed trays with a good-quality, organic seed starting mix and keep your seedlings ideally under a heated dome.  These domes are modest investments that can be used year after year and will enhance your germination and your plant's growth every growing season.  They can also be used for a range of other varieties. 

2. Plant two to three seeds in each cell, about 1/4" inch deep.  Gently press the soil over the seeds and cover the seeds lightly with soil.  Gently water them, using a misting bottle.  Label each cell, so you know what you are growing.  Consider a gardening journal, it can be helpful along your journey.  Here is blog post on how to start one.

3.  A heated dome will provide optimal conditions of warmth and moisture.  Tomatoes and peppers require warm and consistent conditions to germinate - around 75-85°F.  This can easily be done by using a heated mat and dome.  Place dome in a warm location, but not hot where the soil (and seeds) will dry up.

* The key to your success is to keep the soil consistently moist, but not overly saturated.  Do not let the soil (and seeds) dry out.  

4.  Once the seeds have germinated, they need ample light to grow strong.  Thin out weaker seedlings and leave the strongest one per cell. Place the seedlings under grow lights or a location that receives at least 12-14 hours of bright indirect sunlight each day. If this amount of light is not available, use grow lights. Watch them to prevent the plants from becoming leggy. 

* Tomato and pepper plants may be prone to dampening off, in their seedling stages. Ensure prevention by using a misting bottle, practice proper watering techniques and avoid excessive watering and over planting.

5.  Once the seedlings have grown to about 3-4 inches tall and have developed a second set of true leaves, they are ready to be transplanted into larger pots or containers. Handle the seedlings gently, by their leaves and careful not to damage the roots or stems.

6.  Before transplanting tomatoes and peppers outdoors, they need to be hardened off.  Gradually expose them to outdoor conditions over a period of 7-10 days. Start with a few hours of outdoor time in a sheltered location, gradually increasing the exposure to sun and wind.  Bring them in at night, during the hardening off period.

7.  Choose a sunny location in your garden with quality, organic well-draining soil. Amend the soil with compost or organic matter to improve its fertility and drainage.  Tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders and need good,  amended soil to produce proper sized fruit.

8.  Once the danger of frost has passed and the soil temperature is consistently above 60°F (15°C), transplant the seedlings into the prepared garden bed. Space the plants about 24"- 36" apart to provide adequate airflow and room for growth.  You do not want to crowd your plants.  Crowding contributes to the spread of disease and inability to properly grow.

9.  Water your plants regularly, keeping the soil evenly moist. Avoid watering from the top, this can encourage disease.  Only water the base of the plants.  Avoid overwatering and allowing the soil to become waterlogged. Overwatering tomatoes will result in "watery" tasting tomatoes.  Dry farming tomatoes, in specific climates and locations, can result in the most succulent tasting tomatoes.

We highly recommend mulching with straw (not hay) around the plants.  This will help retain moisture and suppress weed growth. 

10.  Since tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders, we recommend  a balanced fertilizer every 3-4 weeks or use a slow-release fertilizer at the time of planting. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for application rates.  We always recommend organic (natural) fertilizers that are not chemically based.

11.  Use tomato cages or strong teepees to support the plants. Most tomato and many pepper varieties require support as they grow. Use cages to support the plants and prevent them from bending or breaking under the weight of the fruit.  These support systems will also prevent your plants from resting on the garden bed, which can also encourage fungus and disease. 

12.  As your plants grow, keep an eye out for any signs of pests or diseases. Common issues include aphids, caterpillars, and fungal diseases. Use organic pest control methods or consult with your local natural garden center for proper solutions.

13.  Tomatoes and peppers have different harvesting times, so consult your seed packet or our website product page for specifics.  Use clean and dry pruning shears or scissors to cut the peppers from the plant.  Pulling the fruit can damage the plant.

Now its time to enjoy and share your abundant harvest!  There are many ways to enjoy it and even preserve your harvest!  We always recommend seed saving as different pepper varieties have different flavor profiles and heat levels, so choose the ones that suit your preferences.  Here is one of our videos on how to save tomato seeds!


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