4 Steps to Starting Peppers and Tomatoes from Seed

There isn’t much more synonymous with summer than hand-picking your own tomatoes and peppers from the garden. That is why it is always nice to get these warm thoughts started early by starting your tomatoes and peppers from seed. There are so many awesome varieties out there and by starting from seed you can have an opportunity to grow something that is difficult to find at a normal restaurant, grocery store or farmer’s market. Tomatoes and peppers can be a little more tricky to grow from seed than other things so here are four steps that can help you start to grow these robust fruits.

When to Start These Seeds

When we are starting from seed we always want to work backwards and think about when we are going to plant these outside. Since we are in the Chicago area it can be a little hard to know when we are okay to transplant these guys outside. We tend to recommend the middle of May. So from there tomatoes will need about a month and a half indoors, while peppers will need about two to two and half months. We recommend starting your tomatoes around the beginning of April and your peppers around the beginning of March.

Create the Ideal environment

When growing these guys you have to consider what their ideal environment is and the ideal medium, or solid, that they can root in. The first answer is hot, humid and full of light. This is where it helps having grow lights, a heating mat and some way to help control humidity (you can go as fancy as a humidifier or just use a humidity dome). These plants like a lot of light. Aim to get them about two thirds of the day under the light. As far as temperature goes, they prefer it being around 70-80 degrees (can be even hotter for peppers). As far as an ideal medium, these plants will like something light and fluffy. This will allow the roots to easily move through the soil, and allows the soil to dry up quickly (although they do like water, these plants do not like sitting in soggy soil.) We love the Purple Cow seed starter soil. It is a nice airy soil that has some of their amazing activated compost mixed into it.

Feed the Beasts

Once your tomatoes and peppers have germinated (tomatoes it takes about 10 days

while peppers can vary from one week to a month), you should let them continue to settle and grow until they have their third set of leaves. When looking for a starter fertilizer there are a few things to prioritize. The first is something a little lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potassium. The next two things would be a fertilizer that has important secondary nutrients that are important to a plant (things like calcium, iron and magnesium) and a living fertilizer that has mycorrhizal fungi. The reason is this offers the plant a mild fertilizer that will not overload and burn the plant, while providing it a healthy starting point to grow. A couple fertilizer we use for our tomatoes and peppers are Fox Farm’s Big Bloom and Down To Earth’s Seed Starter Fertilizer.

Harden Off

This is the easiest yet most overlooked process with tomatoes and peppers. Hardening a plant means you bring them outside during the day for a few hours a day.. This allows the plants to get acclimated with the different temperatures. Think about it, these guys have been in an ideal situation for the last month or two and now they will have to learn to deal with cooler nights and inconsistent temperatures. When it is time to transplant, try to do so during a time where the solid is not soggy and on an overcast day or in the evening.


Growing tomatoes and peppers from seed is a bit more of a process than most seeds, but it is also one of the most rewarding plants to start from seed. There are so many cool varieties from all over the world that you can grow in your very own backyard.

What are some of your favorite tomatoes and peppers?

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