An article by Travis Key from Lazy Dog Farm
With spring approaching, many gardeners will soon be flooding big box and local plant stores for something to plant in their backyard garden. We’re all guilty of fawning over a beautiful stand of plants outside a store and buying way more than we need. And while shopping for plants can be fun for all, there are many advantages to growing your own vegetable plants — especially when it comes to tomatoes and peppers.
Growing your own tomato and pepper plants allows you to choose whatever varieties you want to grow. Plant racks usually only have a few varieties of tomatoes and peppers, some of which may not actually do that well in your area. For example, indeterminate tomato plants don’t do that well down here in hot and humid south Georgia. We grow mostly determinate tomato plants, which are not always easy to find in the plant section of your favorite store.
We also like to grow many varieties of specialty peppers that include chocolate habaneros, long Italian hot peppers, and Serrano peppers. These won’t be found on a plant rack, as they mostly only have common stuff like banana pepper and bell pepper plants. That means we must grow our own plants!
Growing your own plants also allows you to grow healthier plants that can be planted when they need to be planted. Many of the plants outside nurseries and big box stores have been sitting in those pots way too long and have become root bound. This means they’re going to take a lot longer to start growing and putting down roots in your garden.
Those plants outside the store are also often neglected. Some days they might not get watered by the guy who’s ready to leave work for the day, or some days they might take a beating from an early spring wind. But if you grow your own plants, you can give them the TLC they deserve and ensure they’re never stressed.
Where Do You Start?
Container size, tray size, or cell size isn’t that important when it comes to tomato and pepper plants. Use whatever you have. Many gardeners will use plastic cups that they’re recycling for plant purposes. Just know the larger cup you use, the longer it’s going to take for the plant to develop a nice root ball that you’ll need before transplanting.
Soil mix is somewhat important, although there are many options on the market. We prefer to use a sterile seed starting mix so that we don’t have to worry about pathogens being introduced to the plants early in their life. When choosing a mix for growing your own tomato and pepper plants, try finding a “seed starting mix” instead of a potting mix. These usually have exactly what seedlings need to get a great start on life.
Fertilization is where many gardeners fail when trying to grow their own tomato or pepper plants. Much like the plants in our in-ground or raised bed garden need nutrients to thrive, these seedlings do too. They just don’t need quite as much or as high a concentration as those larger plants outside.
I recommend starting to fertilize tomato and pepper plants once they develop their second set of leaves, also known as true leaves. At this stage they’re ready to start using the nutrients that you’ll provide. Frequency and fertilizer concentration is very important here, which we’ll discuss below.
How Much Do You Feed Them?
AgroThrive fertilizers work great for feeding tomato and pepper seedlings. They allow you to keep these small plants happy without much worry over burning them like you would using synthetic fertilizers. The pre-digested organic formula in AgroThrive fertilizers also helps create a root network that is teeming with life and beneficial biological associations.
When tomato and pepper seedlings have their second set of leaves, I like to start with a concentration of 1 ounce of AgroThrive per gallon of water. It doesn’t take much initially because these seedlings are small and only need micro amounts. If you don’t need a gallon of solution at a time, feel free to do 1/2 ounce per half gallon of water or 1/4 ounce per quart of water.
Gently pour the solution onto the soil around the seedling at least a couple times a week. We like to feed ours every time we water. We keep a solution of AgroThrive on hand at all times, or inject it through our watering system with a siphon mixer each time we water.
As the seedlings get larger, you can increase the concentration of the solution if you’d like. You can also adjust the frequency and make plants grow faster or slower. In some cases, your local weather might not be cooperating as plants are starting to fill their containers with roots. You may want to decrease fertilization frequency and slow their growth a little to keep them from becoming root bound in their pots.
The great thing about this process is that you can push plants as fast as you want or have them grow nice and slow. But by feeding them an organic fertilizer like AgroThrive, which is loaded with micronutrients, you’ll have healthy and resilient plants when your ground or weather is ready.
Thousands of gardeners have been tuning in to The Lazy Dog Farm YouTube channel where Travis covers a variety topics ranging from how to successfully start seedlings to how to make a flavorful hotsauce that packs a punch. Accompanied by his wife Brooklyn and their two boys, the gardens on their 2 acre homestead in southwest Georgia are always filled with a wide variety of vegetables that are enjoyed fresh or preserved for later