Indoor seed starting begins as the calendar flips over to the month of March

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By: Jim Carpenter

For the last few days I have carried this nagging reminder around in my head that I needed to get some bell pepper seeds started indoors. I finally took some action.

I put about 20 pepper seeds into a wet paper towel, which was then placed into an unsealed plastic baggie. I like to start some of my seeds this way. I will check the bag daily to make sure the seeds stay wet, and when they germinate I plant those itty bitty sprouts in my jiffy pots. It helps them germinate if they are kept in a warm place. In my situation I keep the seed baggie about three feet from my wood stove in the basement. The top of the refrigerator is also suggested as a possibility.

The reason the pepper seed is a bit of a big deal to me this year is because I am tired of my plants being only about two feet tall when the time comes to plant them in the garden. For some reason, they seem to grow slowly for me. I usually plant pepper and tomato seeds at the same time indoors in early March or so. But the peppers never get much size by the time I want to get them in the ground. This year I promised myself that I would get a jump start.

My back porch is unheated, so I do have a little concern that I might have some fragile little pepper plants out there while there is still some frigid weather around. I have a heating mat that is useful in that situation, but you don’t want to rely on a heating mat for too long for some plants or you might hurt their development. I start my new seedlings under grow bulbs in front of a window that has a southern exposure. Along with the heated mat, I also use clear plastic covers over the newly sprouted plants. This cover lets the light through and helps retain heat and moisture to provide a greenhouse effect.

One reason I am starting my seeds in a plastic bag instead of the moist dirt they will soon go into is because I am not quite ready to transform a corner of my back porch into a plant nursery. I will need to bring in a table from the barn and round up all my seed starting supplies. I will need to gather up trays and plastic pods from previous years along with bringing in some potting soil. I will also need to run an extension cord across the room for my grow lights and heating mats. This will all have to be done soon. But not until until those first pepper seeds sprout.

I am planning to start my tomato seeds around the second week of March. This will give me around two months to grow them on my back porch until the weather is suitable and my garden is prepared. I think I will plant about six to eight each of two different heirloom tomatoes, and the same amount of a hybrid variety my wife will choose. I think I might also want to start Brussels sprouts, okra and egg plant seeds early, although I have never tried to grow these particular plants from seed before. I will also start cabbage seed fairly early, but my cucumber seeds will wait until later in April because they grow quickly. Cucumber seeds are normally just planted directly into prepared soil when it gets warm enough, but I like to jump start them on my back porch.

Whether there is snow on the ground or not, the calender indicates we should have a change of season soon. As I continue to process maple sap to make syrup before the trees start budding, I must also be prepared with my garden plants for the warmer days of spring planting soon to come.

It won’t happen all at once, but as the days grow longer the earth will slowly awaken from its winter slumber. The sound of birds singing will fill the air, and the color green will again be predominate upon the landscape. It will be time to plant the garden.

SPROUTS:

  • The Michiana Master Gardener Association of Elkhart County will be having their 17th annual Spring Celebration at 2 p.m. March 5 at Greencroft in Goshen. The speaker this year is Janet Macunovich from Detroit who will share with us her expertise on edible landscapes and herbs. There will also be many vendors present in addition to a variety of educational tables set up for the public. Doors will open at 1 p.m. 
    • Tickets for the Spring Celebration may be purchased at Better World Books and also at Martin’s Pet & Garden in Elkhart as well as the Purdue Extension office at the fairgrounds in Goshen. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door.
  •  Janet will be having a book signing from 6 to 8 p.m. March 4 at Better World Books in downtown Goshen.
  • The remaining schedule for the gardening seminars to be given by the 2015 class of Master Gardeners is below. These presentations are a free educational opportunity for the public. All presentations will be at 10 a.m. at Rieth Interpretive Center, 410 W. Plymouth Ave., Goshen.
    • March 12: Landscaping
    • March 26: Vegetables
    • April 2: Perennials
For more gardening tips and inspirations from Master Gardener Jim Carpenter, subscribe to the Gardening for Life email newsletter.
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