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Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Posted by plantsforever zone 6 (My Page) on
Thu, Jan 16, 14 at 13:54

From what I've been reading on here it isn't possible to sow tomatoes, peppers or other vegetables that grow only in hot weather. For the past several years I've tried unsuccessfully to start tomatoes and peppers indoors but they always wilt and die immediately after removing the plastic on top of the pots used to keep the soil moist. I start them in potting mix that is moistened, cover the pot w/plastic wrap and place on the back of the stove for warmth.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

You can germinate them any time of the year but what's the point if you don't have either a greenhouse (and supplemental lighting) that's warm enough to grow them on to fruiting (and you need special varieties for this type of crop) or b) it's the right time to start them as transplants for moving outdoors?

If you are trying to start transplants, don't think about it for at least another 5-6 weeks for peppers and a week to ten days later for toms, even in Z6.

From your description of what happens, I think you may be keeping them too warm and too closely covered for too long when starting out. Yes, they need more than cool room temps for germinating, but afterward (once they get their first pair of seed-leaves, which for toms can be in as little as a week -10 days) get them to light and let them grow a little more slowly in a slightly cooler, well-lit area.

Plastic wrap is too closed-in for more than the days prior to seed emergence /germination - maybe repurpose something like those perforated plastic lids that come with some kinds of vegetable or fruit packaging (like cherry tomatos or berries). Or take a clear plastic deli container and add a few holes for fresh air to cover the pots once you see any emergence.

When I think of winter sowing I think of things that will actually be fully cropped during the cool or cold season. Those items need very different conditions than what's needed for transplants that will finish their cycle out of doors after frost.

Just don't start your warm-season transplants too early as indoor conditions, even in a greenhouse, will set them back permanently if they are prolonged. I'm in the cold part of Zone 5, my frost-free date is the last week of May. I start tomatoes the last week of March/first week of April, peppers and eggplants after St.Patrick's day. All are planted in the garden the first week in June. I see you are in Z6, so you will be able to start somewhat earlier, but not months earlier.

The best transplants are younger, unchecked (beyond hardening necessary for the move to outdoors) plants that move smoothly from their early, very vigorous, post-seedling stage of growth just when they are settling into your garden. These will bear earlierand be more resistant to bugs and disease stressors than giants that languish in pots and are larger and will be more adversely stressed by transplanting. People who buy forced, big-pot transplants are not only getting ripped off price-wise, but their plants will transplant less-readily than young, better quality plants.

I grow and sell veg. transplants - I explain this dozens of times a week (sometimes dozens of times per day!) during the season, but many people equate big plant = early fruit. Just not true with tropical origin plants like tomatos and peppers.

Stores selling large plants are modifying peoples' expectations mostly for their own convenience and profit, not for the customers' garden success. It is easier for the retail outlets to maintain larger plants with larger soil volumes vs. smaller transplants. And they can charge a premium for the larger plants, based on solely on size, not for any real horticultural benefit. They are all deliberately stocking plants earlier and earlier in order to try and capture the transplant-buyers' one-time per season dollars before their competition can. And also, more cynically, because if they sell you plants too-early and you have a freeze or frost, then they can sell you another round of plants to replace them.

When you grow your own, you can time it nearly perfectly if you plant half your seeds a few days earlier than the "perfect sowing date" and a few days after. With that spread and the natural difference in plants you should have mostly perfectly on-target plants no matter what weather Mother Nature delivers.

And more importantly by starting from seeds, in your own garden (or greenhouse or windowsill) you reduce the possibility of certain kinds of plant diseases which are endemic in the south (where the giant transplant farms are) but don't survive the winter in Z6 and colder.

There are some seed-borne diseases, of course, but some plant tissue-borne diseases are very commonly spread by plants moved around the country. You can largely avoid them by simply starting your own seeds.

Hope I have helped. Most seed catalogues have excellent info about the optimal germination temps (may I recommend Johnny's seeds for this info?). But keep in mind that's only for germination, not for growing on after you see the first set of leaves. Almost invariably the growing-on temp, even before you prick the seedlings out of their germination pot is lower, with more light, and gradually - but not protractedly - reducing humidity.

Growing from seed is one of the enduring thrills of gardening. Did you know that it's a good idea, once your tomatoes have got leaves, to lightly brush your clean hands over their tops once a week or so? It promotes thicker stems and sturdier plants. If you're doing it right, it feels just like you're petting them. I won't tell.

Good luck.


RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Great advice! I would like to add some of the things I do. I start my tomatoes the end of March in clear 16 oz. beer cups with hole put in bottom. I use only about an inch of seed starter and plant 2-3 seeds in each cup. As they grow, I back-fill with soil until they grow up to the top. This way, you can watch your roots grow and you will have a great root system when it is time to transplant. (roots on tomatoes grow all the way up the stem - not true for peppers.)

For peppers, I start them the second week of Feb. I use shallow containers because I have them on a heat mat until they germinate and for a week or so after.

Both tomatoes and peppers are covered with saran wrap (secured with rubber band) until they germinate. Also, I have never used any lighting --- I have south-facing windows and that is enough.

If you buy the compact healthy-looking greenhouse grown tomato plants and plant them beside your spindly-looking home grown ones, you will find yours will catch up to the store bought ones within a week or so once they are outside.

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

One other thought, with tomatoes and peppers (and anything growing indoors in winter) I spritz them with water regularly to keep the foliage from drying out. Definitely don't keep the soil too wet ---- moist is fine.

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

I have only been sowing indoors for a couple years, but I have had good success with peat pellets. (Keeping them alive and thriving after transplanting is a different story. I'm working on my soil.) As mentioned by Liriodendron, you may be keeping the cover on too long. I found that after the plants have germinated, you need to take it off so there is more air flow. Get a good grow light and keep it close to the little seedlings (without touching them) and raise it as they grow. It's so exciting to see them grow!

I also live in zone 6 and agree that it's a little too early to start. I'll probably start mine the last week of March this year.

Good luck!!

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

It IS possible to wintersow tomatoes and peppers in Zone 6. Until the most recent USDA reclassification I was in 6 and have wintersown tomatoes and peppers for years. I put them out in milkjugs in Feb. and they usually sprout some time in April. When it comes time to plant out after the last frost date the seedlings will be smaller than what you're used to seeing in nurseries, but they'll be hardy and will quickly catch up.

And I usually have tomatoes in July, on or around the same date my brother gets his first tomatoes, and he starts in a greenhouse.


RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Sorry then - there is a big difference between Z5 and Z6 and I am in Z5a. So, if somebody in Z6 has luck year after year, go for it! Probably a good idea to start some indoors also and compare.

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Last year I did start a few inside because I wanted to try the wall o water. They were bigger when they were planted, but if the fruit came a little earlier it was because they were out six weeks earlier than the others. They also had a lot of disease issues. But it was a pretty bad year for tomatoes here -- way too much rain and a heat wave right around the time that most of the plants were setting blossoms.

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

I WS alot of things, but I do start my tomatoes inside. I start them early, and I put them out about 6 weeks before last frost under Walls o' Water. Just because I want the earliest possible tomatoes! I have success inside with absolutely clean containers and fresh seed starting mix (clean the containers with bleach if they're not new), a cheap fluorescent shop light (much sturdier for me than grown in a window sill), and take off the cover AS SOON as the seeds sprout.

I may eventually try WS some as well, just to compare how early they ripen. I've certainly had volunteer tomato plants in the garden many years, so I have to believe WS would work just fine for them here.

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Oh ---Tennessee! We have put our hobby farm on the market here in NW IL and will be moving to TN once we find a place we want to be. It will have to be rural with some acreage and safety is definitely a concern. We have that here and take it for granted. If anybody lives in a nice rural area of TN fairly near a city, please let me know.

I am interested in how different growing conditions are going to be --- but we have to sell our place first before we get too excited. I started peppers indoors a couple of weeks ago and they are all up and looking pretty happy. I will just buy tomato plants since we are going to be moving hopefully within the year.

I don't use any lightling other than the south-facing windows. The peppers look great but are growing very slowly. That is fine as long as they are doing well.

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

I also WS tomatoes and peppers successfully, here in zone 6. I do start them a little later, maybe March and even into April if I'm behind, like this year, but I use the WSing method and start them in milk jugs. I've WSown for about 10 years now.

I have to say, my seedlings are smaller than my friend's, who starts hers in a greenhouse, but they really do catch up very quickly once planted out.

I'm a very lazy gardener, and add that to the fact that I never really had luck with starting anything indoors - well, let me amend that. If I did get anything to actually germinate, it would either succumb to damping off, or I would forget trays of seedlings outside on the front steps which were put out in the sun to harden off, only to die a quick overnight death in low temps, lol. So anyway, what I'm trying to say in my long-winded way is I would not bother starting anything from seed if I couldn't winter-sow it.

That's my personal preference, of course, but I just wanted to share my experience to let the OP know that it can be done if he/she wants to try it.

Good luck to all of us this spring, however we start our tomatoes! I'm sure after this long winter we are all looking forward to the first bite of home-grown goodness!


RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

I just sowed all my peppers and tomatoes (milk jugs & covered disposable lasagne trays) this past week. Zone 6b, south central PA.

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.


^^ I use only about an inch of seed starter and plant 2-3 seeds in each cup. As they grow, I back-fill with soil until they grow up to the top
I like this idea of back filling soil as seedlings grow. That way you can have deep roots.

How do you do this in a cup though? Isn't it deep, till they grow? Do they get sunlight from angle? If it's too deep, it won't get sunlight from an angle especially if you are setting this up inside house near window.

RE: Winter sowing peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Ok, I guess I don't really understand the question. The cups are clear so the sun shines right down on them as you back fill them. These are in south-facing windows and I rotate the trays as the little plants lean toward the sun. I have never used extra lighting and for the tomatoes, not even bottom heat.

It is the ideal way to grow tomatoes from seed and not letting them get leggy. I will be starting mine this year in a couple of weeks.

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