No matter which variety you grow, tomatoes and peppers are best started indoors during winter's final days. Plant seeds about six to eight weeks before the date of the last frost in your area. Once the soil has warmed up and overnight temperatures no longer threaten frost, transplant your tomato and pepper seedlings outside. Both types of plants can be staked or caged for support. If you are growing indeterminate varieties of tomatoes, support is absolutely essential to promote plant health and guard against disease.
Sow seeds according to package instructions in starter mix in a flat. Mist with water in a mister bottle to avoid disturbing the seeds or soil.
Cover the flat with a sheet of plastic wrap to create a miniature greenhouse for the seeds to germinate. Place in indirect sunlight, such as through blinds or curtains.
Monitor the moisture level of the seedlings. Mist with more water if you do not see condensation clinging to the underside of the plastic wrap. Avoid watering if you see a lot of excess water sitting in the bottom tray of the flat.
Remove the plastic wrap once the seeds have germinated. Move to a window that gets full sun, such as a south-facing window.
Water as needed--soil should always be moist, but not muddy. Apply fertilizers (specialty tomato and general vegetable for peppers) according to package instructions after second set of leaves has formed on each plant.
Set flat outside for an hour in the middle of a warm day, then bring indoors, a week before the expected last frost date. Repeat daily for a week, increasing the time by an hour or two each day to acclimate plants to outdoor life.
Prepare the soil in your garden as soon as the ground can be worked in spring. Choose a location that gets full sun and dig it up to a depth of 1 foot. Break up any large chunks of soil completely. Mix a ratio of 1-to-1 compost into the soil.
Transplant seedlings, one at a time, after all danger of frost in your area has passed. Squeeze each cell to release the root ball of the seedling. Set it into a hole roughly the size of the root ball. Cover root ball completely with soil and tamp down lightly. Water transplants gently, such as with a shower setting on an adjustable garden hose sprayer.
Use stakes or cages to begin training tomato and pepper plants early after you have transplanted them. Tie stems gently with pieces of used pantyhose, which is strong but does not damage tender plants.
Mulch to a depth of 2 to 3 inches around all seedlings. Leave a gap of 2 inches around the base of each seedling that is mulch-free. Applying mulch right next to seedlings can contribute to root rot and disease.
Water daily, especially in hot weather. Continue to apply fertilizers throughout the growing season as per manufacturer instructions; different manufacturers have different regimens they want you to follow.
About this Author
Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker, and writer. In addition to cooking and baking for a living, Chuasiriporn has written for several online publications. These include Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty, and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication CarEnvy.ca. Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.