Starting Eggplant, Pepper, and Okra Seeds Indoors
by National Gardening Association Editors
Unless you live in the Deep South or Southwest, you won't want to sow your pepper or eggplant seeds directly into the ground. Most gardeners in these regions prefer either to buy transplants or start their own indoors for outdoor planting when the weather and the ground have warmed enough.
Starting Up With Okra
Okra has a reputation for being hard to transplant and because it doesn't require a very long season, many gardeners will sow their okra seeds right in the ground at the proper time. But if you want to and are willing to take a little extra care of the long taproot or main root that okra develops, you can successfully transplant this crop.
Some Basics On Starting Seed Indoors
It's very easy to grow your own transplants, and growing your own gives you the freedom to pick your own varieties. It also lets you make sure the plants get the best care right from the start.
To grow your own transplants, all you need is:
- Sterilized soil or potting mix;
- Suitable containers such as peat pots, flats, Jiffy 7's, milk cartons cut in half, or anything that will hold soil and provide good drainage;
- A place to put the seeds while they're germinating that provides a warm, even temperature - bottom heat is especially important;
- Plenty of sunshine or grow lights;
For good germination, make sure the container has holes for drainage. If excess water can't drain, your seeds will rot.
All your efforts can be ruined by damping off, a fungus disease that attacks the emerging seedlings, if you don't take steps to prevent it. The best preventive measures are to make sure your potting soil mix is sterile and that you don't overwater. Purchased soil and potting mixes usually are sterile. If you want to use your own garden soil, you can get rid of the fungus organisms and weed seeds by baking the soil in a shallow pan (like a cookie sheet), in a 200° F oven for about an hour. Don't do this when you're hungry; the smell is enough to make you lose your appetite. And don't try to sterilize soil in a microwave oven: you may damage the oven. Another way to prevent damping off is to treat the seeds with captan, which can be bought at a garden supply store. Be sure to follow the directions on the package.
To start growing your transplants, fill the container with moistened, not wet, potting mix or soil. If you're using peat pots or Jiffy 7's, plant a few seeds in each. This ensures at least one good plant per pot. In flats, sprinkle the seed about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart. Then firm them into the soil with a flat, rigid object. such as a small wooden shingle or a kitchen spatula. Sprinkle some more of the potting mix over the seeds, covering them only to a depth of three to four times their own diameter. For pepper and eggplant seeds, about 1/4 inch of the moistened soil or mix is about right. Okra seeds are bigger and can take about an inch of covering. Firm the top of the soil again, so that the seeds come into good contact with the moistened soil to help germination.
Cover the flat or container with plastic wrap or put it in a plastic bag to help retain moisture. Then place the bundle in a spot that's consistently warm but not hot, such as the top of the fridge. Cover the packages with a few sheets of newspaper to help insulate them.
A sunny window is the worst place to put seeds that are trying to germinate. It's hot during the day and usually cold at night. These temperature extremes don't help the seeds to germinate. The top of your refrigerator is a great location because the temperature is constant, warming the soil around your seeds. It has the added benefit of getting flats or containers out of your way. Eggplant, pepper and okra seeds don't need sunlight to sprout, just warmth and a bit of moisture.
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