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I had planned to start some plants indoors for the vegetable garden this year to try more disease resistant varieties but between being busy and the weather being cold for so long I completely forgot.

I'm going to buy transplants but still want to want to do some plants from seeds. Namely some tomatoes and hot peppers.

A few days ago I planted some seeds in peat pellets and yesterday I noticed the tomato seedlings have already come up and are now sitting by a south facing window with some artificial light to help them get a better head start.

Can anyone give me advice for late starts?

Things like:

Only doing a few. Should I not bother and just buy plants?

Can I start to harden them off early since the weather will be warmer or should I stick to the normal schedule?

Should I just direct sow? I have already sown some other seeds in a covered raised bed where I plan on putting some of the tomato and pepper starts.

Basically what would you do if you were in my shoes and you normally plant transplants out in the next week or two.

I'm in Zone 6.

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If you start now with seeds indoors you can set them out in 2-3 weeks. You'll get more rapid germination and stronger transplants for tomatoes and peppers if you start indoors. Last frost date in zone 6 is around October 15th which is still ~150 days away though not much growing (though some ripening of already set fruits) occurs much past September 15th for me. If you want to be on the safe side, look for varieties with shorter maturation dates for the plants you plan to raise from seed. There are lots of great tomatoes with maturation times in the 65-85 days range which should be plenty of time in your zone. I'm in zone 4 and I tend not to set tomatoes and peppers out much before June 1st anyway and I still get good crops. That is about three weeks away so you've got time...but get started. I stay away from varieties with maturation dates above 85 days. I have occasionally gotten away with 95-100 in some years.

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I am hopeless at hardening off, so I don't have advice there, but it does sound like you are looking for other options. Have you thought of wintersowing some seeds outside to try? I am a zone or two colder than you, and planted a couple empty milk jugs with tomatoes within the past couple weeks. They are just starting to come up now, and seem to be taking the near freezing temps we've had some nights just fine with the protection that the jug gives them. I still have 3 1/2 weeks to go before the date we normally set our tomatoes out here. I would think you'd have no trouble getting some started this way in your zone.

  • I updated my Q a little bit. Basically I'm looking for advice on what I should do now in my area considering I normally would be planting transplants over in the next couple of weeks or so. Should I even bother with some seeds this late? – OrganicLawnDIY May 6 '14 at 21:25
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    Personally, I would if you have space for plants that won't set fruit until later in the season. Every year, I set out store-purchased tomato plants and also have either winter-sown or garden volunteers. The store-bought plants begin bearing much earlier in the season, but the plants sown outdoors (in my experience) are very hardy and out produce them with a late flush of fruit. Personally, I like having both. – michelle May 7 '14 at 14:08
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First of all, I would recommend growing seedlings at least six to eight inches high before transplanting, and leave a lot of leaves up top after you do. More leaves means faster growth to start with, in my experience.

If it's hot outside, make sure that's not making your growing area inside too hot. That can make it difficult for plants to grow, I've found.

When growing your plants, grow them in at least 18 fl. oz. containers, each. They'll grow bigger faster if they're not in tiny cells.

Phosphorus is supposed to help plants mature more quickly. That seems to hold true, so far. If your plants are maturing faster, you're likely to get fruit faster. Make sure they have enough potassium, calcium and silica (those things will likely make transplanting more successful, if you have adequate levels).

Late in the season, I wouldn't even worry about hardening off, if your area is like mine. In early to mid June on up, hardening off no longer seems to be necessary where I live (western Idaho). In May up to maybe early June, the transplanting is much different, however.

Not too long after planting, I might recommend fertilizing once with an even fertilizer (something like 20-20-20) to get some quick, extra growth in.

Finally, plant early varieties. You might consider those that set well in heat, as well as those that set early. If you're starting late, it'll likely be hotter than usual when they want to bear fruit.

For tomatoes, you might try Early Girl, Glacier, Siberian and Galapagos Island (Solanum cheesmaniae). I believe all of those should do well in heat, and they're all fairly early. Siberian is a cold-tolerant variety, but I've read that cold-tolerant varieties (such as Glacier) often are great for hot areas, too (not all of them, though, perhaps). Cold tolerant tomatoes may also extend your season somewhat.

Pruden's Purple is a nice tomato that seems to mature and get flowers rather quickly, if my one plant is any indicator. However, I'm not sure that it fruits well in the heat.

For hot peppers, you might try Early Jalapeño. It really is early. I'm not sure what else, but I would mostly recommend checking the days to maturity on them.

If you're late planting, I could also recommend looking to your neighbors with large, mature tomato or pepper plants. See if they'll give you a few branches for cuttings. The bigger they are, the better, as long as you know how to root them (whether outdoors or indoors, in soil or water).

Unless you're rooting in water, you'll probably want light levels to be low for the first few days. Using extra potassium sulfate should help success rates if you're rooting in soil. Peppers may be a lot more difficult to root in soil than tomatoes.

Adding a little of an even fertilizer (like 20-20-20) to the water, for cuttings rooted in water may help to keep the plants nourished if the water-rooting is taking more than a few days. A fertilizer that isn't even (like 24-8-16) will often kill your cuttings. Expect it to take up to at least a couple weeks, in water. If the stems have root nodules, it should be much faster.

Tomatoes are a lot easier to root in soil (fresh seed-starting mix) than water, I think.

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