Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Starting Heat-Lovers from Seed

by Susan Littlefield

Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. This trio of relatives -- all members of the Solanaceae family -- are mainstays of the summer garden. All relish warm soil and warm weather, and none will withstand frost. So gardeners must wait until the soil is toasty and they are sure that Jack Frost won't pay a final visit before putting these heat lovers in the ground. This means that, in most parts of the country, started plants must be set out in the garden in order to reap a harvest before Jack comes calling once again in the fall. Plants grown from seed sown directly in the garden just won't have enough time to ripen a crop before cold weather shuts them down.

While you can purchase seedlings of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant at garden stores and greenhouses, the selection of varieties to choose from is often limited. Starting your own plants from seed not only lets you choose from a wider selection of varieties, it's easy and fun as well!

Getting Started

You don't need a lot of equipment or supplies to begin seed starting at home. Probably your most important investment is a fluorescent light fixture to provide young plants with plenty of light. Although you can put seedlings on a sunny windowsill, the light coming in is much lower in intensity than outdoor sunlight. Providing supplemental artificial light will give you the most successful results. A shop fixture with two cool-white bulbs is sufficient and not terribly expensive. Suspend the fixture on chains so that you can easily change its height above the plants as they grow.

Other basic supplies needed include soilless seed starting medium, cell packs and pots to plant and transplant into, liquid fertilizer, a small watering can -- and seeds, of course! In the handy, but not required, category are a heat mat to speed germination, an automatic timer to turn lights on and off, and a small fan to provide air movement around seedlings.

A Tasty Trio

Here is just a sampling of the many varieties of tomatoes, eggplants, and sweet and hot peppers we offer. Expand your garden horizons and try something new in your garden this season!

'Better Boy' Tomato (75 days)— This disease-resistant hybrid variety produces large, round, red, juicy tomatoes that average one pound in weight.

'Jubilee' Tomato (80 days) —A large, yellow, globe-shaped, open-pollinated variety with mild flavor and a meaty texture.

'Bharta MHB-112' Eggplant (55-60 days to flowering from transplant) —The fruits of this very productive Indian hybrid are large, round, and shiny black.

'Purple Panther' Eggplant (60 days to flowering from transplant) —Bears well even in rainy weather, forming 8-9 inch long, smooth, blackish-purple fruits.

'Golden Summer' Sweet Pepper (70 days) —This hybrid is the best yellow pepper variety for superior fruit production and quality.

'Cayenne Long Slim' Hot Pepper (70-75 days) —The 5-6 inch long pods change from dark green to red at maturity.

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