The Q&A Archives: Seed Starting

Question: I would like to start my tomatoes and peppers indoors this spring (within the next couple of weeks). I have read various ways to start my seeds. One way said to start them in a warm dark place until they sprout, then keep them in the sun. Another way was to keep them warm and sunny. It is snowing today so I cannot really keep them warm. How should I start my seeds? Can I use artificial light and heat?

Answer: Both peppers and tomatoes are warm-season crops and both require warm soils (70F - 75F) to germinate. Neither need light to germinate, but do require light once they sprout. You can start your seeds by sowing at the proper depth in moistened seed starting mix, covering the trays or pots with plastic wrap to help retain moisture, and placing them in a warm place such as on top of the refrigerator, near a radiator, or next to a waterheater. Or, you can purchase soil heating cables or a greenhouse propagating mat. Once the seeds germinate, they won't require bottom heat. Remove the plastic wrap and place the pots or trays under a source of artificial light. An inexpensive source of light for indoor seed starting is a hooded fluorescent shoplight. Use two 40Watt bulbs in each fixture (one cool white and one warm white fluorescent tube) and keep the bulbs 4" away from the tops of the seedlings. Move the lights up as the seedlings grow. Keep the lights on 14-16 hours each day. The seedlings will thrive under lights in regular household temperatures, so unless you plan to grow them in an unheated basement or garage, you should not need an additional heat source.

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