The Q&A Archives: Starting Tomato Seedlings

Question: I would like to start tomato and green pepper plants from seeds. When is the best time to plant the seeds for my area? When would it be safe to move them outside and plant them in my garden? If I wanted to use a cold frame, when would I move them to that? How do you know when to open the lid to the cold frame during the day and when to close it at night?

Answer: In general, it is best to start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost date for your area. For your area, that is around April 20. Generally, transplants are set outdoors after this last frost date to avoid damage from the frost and cold weather. For tender plants like tomatoes and peppers, I wait one week after the last expected frost date, and then start a period (approx. 1 wk.) of "hardening off" for the new transplants. That simply involves moving them outdoors gradually, exposing them to a little more light, and outdoor temperatures day by day. <br><br>If you use a cold frame, you can move your plants out a little sooner. You'll need to be around to keep an eye on the cold frame. You should plan on opening it for venting when it reaches 70F inside, and close it when it drops below that. Of course you can let it go a few degrees on either side of this temperature, but remember that heat can build up very quickly on a sunny day and you can literally cook you plants. You can purchase solar-powered vent openers if you won't be around to take care of this task. <br><br>I wouldn't move them out to the cold frame earlier than mid-April. If you are really diligent about keeping an eye on the temperatures, thenmaybe two weeks earlier. If you are growing them under lights indoors, they'll probably be better off if you keep them inside until the weather definitely warms. Last year, I moved mine out too early, and it stunted their growth a little.

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