We are now getting to the time of year where we can begin starting seeds indoors for transplants later this spring. Late February through mid-March is the time of the year when transplants should be started inside our homes. Growing transplants from seed takes more work than just buying transplants, but purchasing seed rather than plants is less expensive and you are able to get more varieties rather than just what is available in garden centers.
It is best to wait until after our last frost to plant transplants of warm season crops into the garden. It takes about 8 weeks to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed, so count backward from Mother’s Day to determine when to start the plants indoors. Since Mother’s Day this year is on May 10, the time to start tomatoes and peppers would be the middle of March. Don’t start your transplants too early or they will get too tall and spindly.
When starting transplants, use good quality seed and a sterile soil or soil-less mixture. For growing media, you can use a potting soil, or a soil-less mixture that contains vermiculite, perlite, and/or peat moss. Choose growing media that is well-drained and has been moistened prior to planting into. Start the seeds in seed trays or other types of containers. You can reuse pots or seed trays from previous years, just make sure all equipment has been cleaned thoroughly prior to reuse.
Plants should be grown in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees. Too cold or too warm can reduce the rate of germination or the plants may grow leggy or improperly. Seedlings need 12-16 hours of light per day. This light should be kept about 1 inch above the plants, as they grow, this light should be moved up with the seedlings. The light source can be as simple as a utility or shop light with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb. Fertilization can be applied weekly with a one-quarter strength, soluble fertilizer. Do not fertilize the seedlings if they were allowed to dry out. Replenish the moisture in the plants prior to applying fertilizer to avoid burning the seedlings.
Preparing plants for outdoor conditions
Two weeks prior to planting outdoors in the garden, you will need to prepare the plants to outdoor conditions, this transition is called hardening off. Move the plants outdoors in the shade on non-windy days. Start out by placing the plants in sun for only an hour or two, gradually increase the length of time they are in the sun and the intensity of that sun. Be sure to bring the plants indoors at night. Also, keep them out of direct wind until they have hardened off.
Choose good varieties
For good vegetable selections, try the new All American Selections for 2020. The National winners includes some great choices for cucumbers, peas, tomatoes, and watermelons. There are two choices of tomatoes for the Heartland region, which includes Nebraska. These are Chef’s Choice Bicolor and Galahad.
Nicole Stoner is the Gage County Horticulture Extension Educator. She can be contacted at (402) 223-1384, firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting the Gage County Extension website at www.gage.unl.edu. Like her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NicoleStonerHorticulture, or follow her on Twitter @Nikki_Stoner.