Too Late To Start Tomato & Pepper Seeds

Crystena(7)April 28, 2014

So this is my first time starting tomato and pepper seeds and I'm having a bit of trouble.

What happened to my seedlings so far:
My tomato seedlings got very leggy before I even knew it and someone advised it's best to start over, plus I dropped them when I was moving them. So I started over but the second time around my soil was way too wet and didn't dry or drain at all (I didn't think I put that much water in them but I read to dampen the mix first then put the seed in, my previous starter mix was not this wet) - so they finally emerged really yellow and even though I was fully prepared with my plant light that I put over them as soon as they emerged, they're still looking rather leggy, not as much as before but still so.

My light is a Philips Plant Light, Agro-Light A19, 60 watts.

As for my pepper seedlings, they weren't emerging and I read the soil temp has to be really warm, more so than other seeds, for them to germinate so I put them close to my heater in my closet. When they did emerge, they also were leggy, but I didn't want to toss them so I read that I could bury the stem deeper, so I did. But not all of them because some of them had a lot of mold on the outside/inside of the pots so I decided to save only some of them.

So is it too late to start tomato and pepper seeds? I'm in New Castle county Delaware, zone 7. Some sources say this week or last week is my last frost date. And the guaranteed last frost date according to the gov website is May 10th. So I could be around 7 weeks late to my estimation.

I could try to find transplants of the varieties I like but that would be more money after I bought seeds already this year. I have 17 varieties of tomatoes and 12 varieties of peppers. Ultimately, if it is too late I would try to do that, but I'm not sure if it's too late to start new tomato seeds or if the tomato seeds I have now will make it into healthy plants, three of them haven't germinated yet. My few pepper seedlings are looking fine but I'd like to plant all the varieties that I originally had.

What to do? Help, please!

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When I screw up and am looking at a mess, I try to both go with the mess (i.e. plant 'em) and look for a backup (such as commercial plants, friends, and so on). Sometimes the mess works itself out, and it just might be that one is not prepared right that very week or so to put something else in that spot.

"Leggy" isn't all that bad a deal. Tomatoes are root-growing fools when you bury them deep.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 3:34PM
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blueheron(z6 PA)

I don't think it's too late if you start them right away. When the weather warms up like it has been, they will catch up to the ones started earlier and kept in cold frames. They like the warm soil and that doesn't happen until May.

I'm in PA zone 6 and my tomatoes plants are short and I won't be planting them out until May 15 or so.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 4:33PM
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If you want to prevent the leggy seedling, you need to up your light output for them. if you are only using 1 60 watt light, then that is not enough. In a 16" x 36" space, I use 4 t8 32w lamps which produces around 11,000 lumens. Lumens is what you need to be concerned with, not the wattage. If you add a few more lights, I think you will have better results. But as long as you have sufficient light(I would at least double you light), then you can always repot leggy seedlings deep.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 9:21AM
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I was concerned about the light now being enough, it doesn't even list the lumens. I'll have to head over to HD and see what they have and how I can make a better set up with, probably, multiple lights.

I think I'm going to start new seeds but still try and keep these guys going including my tomato seedlings. As a last resort I might consider getting transplants. I found sources for all the tomato varieties, but not all the pepper varieties I had picked out.

If I can avoid buying them, I'd like to, but I'm still concerned on how late it is to start seedlings. I'm wondering if it'll be really warm out and in the throws of spring and my plants will be itty bitty things behind on the growing season.

Even though I only got a few transplants last year (no seed starting) I was also a bit late.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 3:06PM
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I've been looking at HD ad Lowe's and reading up on different lights. there's a Philips 2 ft T12 "Natural Light" bulb that is 9,000 lumens and 5000k. Though I can't seem to find a really cheap fixture. There's a single light fixture for $13.98. Would only one of these bulbs work? I've got about 18 tomatoes and 10 peppers.

How many lumens would I need for all these seedlings?

Theres a Metalux fixture for $18 that holds two T8 bulbs and I could get two T8 bulbs that are 1,400 lumens and 3000k or 1,275 lumens and 6500k.

There's also 4ft lights that I could actually get cheaper (fixture as low as $13 and 2 pack bulbs for less than $10 - those bulbs up to 2,900 lumens and 6500k), but I'm not sure about being able to dedicate 4 feet of horizontal space. But I know the light should be right over the seedlings so I might not have a choice??

How many bulbs do you think I need for the amount of seedlings I'm starting?

Sorry about all the technical specifics on the lights. I know that the higher kevlin the better for seedlings so if I could get a better idea on the amount of lumens I'd need and how many bulbs (considering that people say that should be right over the seedlings) then I think I could know what's best to choose.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 3:32PM
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I've started tomato, pepper seeds May 1 in zone 5 and not planted until first week in June . Any shop light will do . They will catch up quickly once planted outside .

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 7:54AM
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T8's work fine just keep them about 2 in. from the plant.. They wont burn them up . Also an oscillating fan will help prevent damping off and will help keep them from being leggy . Light , and fan 16 hrs a day .. Go for it . Good luck !

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 7:59AM
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Don't ever give up. I'm in a cooler climate and do not plant till June 1st.
Last year i dumped two trays of starts...fell back off the shelf, behind the shelf. Strong hearty fellas and saved many but lost all identification. I started more, but did buy just a couple cheap six packs at my local nursery. (to mend my broken heart, lol)
The infants quickly caught up with the larger purchased.
I always spend a twenty bill at the nursery. Just to get a bit of 'green' in the garden while i tend and till for some cheerleader support when all my direct seeded lettuces and others are just tiny babies.
I don't need tomatoes this year, but my peppers did not do well.
So, my tiny list to purchase is a six pack of good strong salad heads, peppers, celery, and leeks...all the things my nursery does so much better than i can do. Maybe cosmos for some easy early color.
Everything else i do myself.
Should be warm and sunny in Del today and all weekend? Maybe give them a bit of real sun or better, some bright shade outside.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 12:51PM
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Thanx for the encouragement! I'm going out today to buy a better light and start seeds today but I'm going to keep the ones I've got going and see how they do. I'm sure I need to re-pot some of them, they sure are leggy - for today they'll get some afternoon sun and hopefully turn into strong plants :)

Cazy weather btw, it rained buckets for two days, my bed's a mud pit! Now it's sunny :)

And I hear you on the cheerleader support! It's definitely nice to have things already flourishing early. I still might pick up some transplants and who knows I might have too many plants afterwards. I'll keep my fingers crossed, the seed starting has proven to be a bit tricky for me - both the lighting and the timing of it all.
It's funny a lot of people say mid or late April for my area so I was surprised to read May 10th on the Del gov website. A lady I found who ships tomato transplants (heirloomtomatoplants dot com) says she has a lot of customers in Del and doesn't ship until Mid May so, yeah, I'm making my way up the learning curve.

I hope your plants do well this year!

This post was edited by Crystena on Sun, May 4, 14 at 13:46

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 3:46PM
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