Starting Tomatoes & Peppers Outdoors??

Saginaw, TX(Zone 8a)

I have a horrible track record of successful relocation of indoor-sown seeds that I try to harden off and transplant. There's really not anyplace in the house that I have to start seeds anymore. I have had a "brilliant idea" and want to see if it's feasible or if I need to cut down on my meds.

Background: I'm in North Central Texas (Zone 8a) and I garden in raised beds. This year I want to start my tomatoes, peppers, etc (mostly nightshade) outdoors in the bed they'll be in and cover that with PVC hoops and plastic. After they sprout and really take hold, I'll remove the plastic and use shade cloth to help harden them off and then take everything off in about a week. Is this a feasible idea? I appreciate any suggestions or comments. Thanks in advance.

Olathe, KS(Zone 5a)

Check out the winter sowing (WS) forum for tomatoes and peppers. There is not a lot of info for those 2 things. I am going to WS both in March for zone 5 - think you can do it now for your zone. Best way to get great plants - no hardening off - I cannot do this right either. Your way seems similar but I think is more work.

Plant in pots/cups/whatever with damp potting mix and drainage holes, cover pot with transparent or translucent material with small holes in top for moisture (snow/rain) and air - can use baggie. Baggie or larger container acts as a baby greenhouse. There is a great forum on Facebook called Winter Sowers - join that for current info - it is run by the lady (Trudi D.) that started the concept of winter sowing.

Alexandria, VA

Is weather/temperature an issue? If so you can use Wall-O-Water teepees. Do a search for them - they're great to use to get a jumpstart on the outdoor growing season. You can keep them in place until it's nice and hot out. Here in my zone 7 garden I put out tomtoes and peppers in March-April when it's still quite cold, especially at night, and use the teepees and the plants grow great.

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

you could try to start the tomatoes and peppers outdoor ... but I think the soil it is not too warm to grow them outdoor in January and February, and when the soil will be warm enough for the seeds to germinate (between 75f and 85F) it will be too late for the plants to be able to produce fruits before the summer heat will arrive.
I have been growing vegetable successful all year around in Dallas for four years now. The secret is really to transplant/seed outside at the right time.
Right now I have started tomatoes at the end of December and I am planning to transplant out under protection by the end of February. I will have 3.5 months of tomato harvest and by mid July the plants will just be finished. In fact higher than 95F tomato plants will keep flowering ... but no tomatoes.
I started peppers and eggplants indoor on January 11th. My ideal transplant outside date will be at the beginning of April.
While tomatoes could tolerate temperature below 60F, peppers and eggplant cannot and they will go into a shock and stop growing for a while ...
It is not hard at all to grow veggies in zone 8a ... very easy ... if you can understand your planting time.

But good luck to you. I think you should start your seedlings as you think is the best for you ... this is suppose to be fun fun ... Sincerely

ps. This man was the my mentor on the techniques I am using growing my tomatoes (I love his accent)

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I start tomatos outdoors early under Wall-o-waters with good success. I can't start peppers as early, though. They won't settle for above freezing, they actually want to be warm. Eggplants even warmer. Do you have a soil thermometer? or Min-Max recording thermometer?

Fabens, TX(Zone 8a)

drthor, I watched the videos you recomended I realy enjoyed them, thanks for the heads up.

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

By the way i have many of Wall-o-waters ... I used some once and some never used. If anybody wants them ... I can give you a good deal !
Just D-mail me.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I thought I had finished replying to this - I guess I forgot to post.

Frost blankets over hoops provide different ratios of insulation to light - usually the more insulation, the less light. Plastic would give the maximum light and solar heat during the day, but the minimum insulation at night. So there is potential for your plants to get both too hot and too cold - you would have to watch the temperature carefully until you get an idea of what it is going to do under there. I haven't done it myself, but I have seen photos of taken in Colorado of someone who runs strings of outdoor Christmas lights under the hoops to get them through colder nights.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I think if you could find room inside to at least get the tomatoes and peppers sprouted first then move them outside you would have a better chance, that is what I do here in zone 8b with some of mine. I cover my cold frames at night and on cold days when there is no sun with a black carpet like material, I suppose any old carpet would work. How about the top of the refrigerator or freezer, maybe a heat pad in the garage?

Victoria, Australia

What you need to start your seeds:
A sunny, indoor window or greenhouse.
Small pots or flats with good drainage. Clean thoroughly.
An easy draining, pathogen-free soil mix, preferably soilless.
No greenhouse? Use good quality light fixtures.
Air movement.
Small amounts of fertilizer.
Seed heating mat (optional).

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I agree with almost all of that.

I especially agree with "good drainage" and "easy draining". It's worth saying 2-3 times, so I would add "well aerated soil mix". Most commercial mixes over here are mostly peat, which holds too much water unless you're very skilled at avoiding too much water.

I had to add a LOT of coarse grit and coarse Perlite until I discovered pine bark nuggets. Now I start with pine bark shreds and nuggets, then add a little commercial peaty mix. Maybe some dayh I will learn how NOT to over-water, but in the meanwhile, a very open, fast-draining mix that does not exclude air by retaining TOO MUCH water saves me from drowning most seeds.

>> A sunny, indoor window or greenhouse.
>> No greenhouse? Use good quality light fixtures.

A greenhouse would be great.

When I tried to use a sunny window to start seeds, the trays overheated in the daytime and were much too cold at night. The brightness was less than marginal - seedlings got leggy and their growth almost stalled. But others have done it successfully, I guess.

I've heard the claim that seedlings need even more light than established plants, but I can't prove that.

The light fixtures need to be bright enough! They can be cheap 4 foot shop lights IF you are careful to keep the tubes REALLY close to the seedlings. Traditional T-12 fluorescent tubes are JUST bright enough for seedlings. But their brightness (lumens or intensity) is marginal, with few photons to spare. And they have poor efficiency compared to modern , high-quality florescent tubes (CFL, or "compact florescent lights").

(Even old T-12s are more efficient than incandescent bulbs. Those are only useful to gardeners as a source of heat!)

It helps if bulbs and reflectors are clean, and the bulbs are replaced before the get dimmer (say, after 10,000 to 15,000 hours). If you wait until the tubes develop black spots or burn out, you've been getting less intensity for the last 5-10 thousand hours.

High output T-8 bulbs or T-5 bulbs have more brightness than T-12s (intensity, as well as MUCH higher efficiency). The T-5s are still rather expensive, but T-8 tubes and fixtures have come down in price. T-8s are efficient IF you use them with the correct ballast: electronic, not the old style.

These modern , higher output bulbs provide more brightness, which seedlings appreciate. They can be hung several inches higher and still give as much intensity as T-12 tubes brushing the leaves.

Central, TX(Zone 8b)

In a spare bedroom I have a metro rack set up with seedling heat mats and shop light fixures (full spectrum 6500K "sunlight" bulbs) that I use to start tomato and peppers plus other warmth loving veggies. It takes at least 6-8 weeks to produce a seedling for outdoor planting in mid-March (with protection) for tomatoes and April 1st for peppers. Trying to start these outside is risky - too cold, not enough light, too many environmental problems you can't manage.

Drthor - I just watched the Youtube links - The New Garden, I had completely forgotten this series but as soon as the music began it was like greeting an old friend! Thanks for the memories...

This message was edited Mar 16, 2013 8:34 AM

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