A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate

Tomatoes and Peppers

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Tomato and pepper seedlings in the greenhouse.

Mid-March to early April is the time to start tomatoes, peppers and any flowers, like impatience, that take a long time to germinate or to flower. Some seeds, such as petunias, might need to be planted even sooner.

Linda’s husband Tim made her a heat and light stand so she could germinate plants more easily indoors. It has 4 shelves, 3 have heat and 4 have fluorescent lights. The germination stand moved from her house to my front porch about 10 years ago when we started gardening together. I had the land, she had the ability to wield the garden tiller and gravely tractor.

We have been growing Heirloom tomatoes for many years now. This year we are growing Cherokee Purple, Moskvich, Striped German and Amish paste tomatoes and Boynton Bell and Sweet Banana peppers. We are also growing a hybrid cherry tomato called Chiquita, it’s a pink cherry tomato. We grow cherry tomatoes in deck planters so we can put them in the greenhouse if frost threatens. We like them because they ripen before the others and we can grab a hand full while working in the garden.

After the tomatoes and peppers start coming up, it usually takes 3-4 days for tomatoes, a little longer for peppers. I turn on the lights so they don’t get to leggy. When the majority of tomatoes or peppers are up they are moved off the germination stand to a shelf on the front porch, which has a southern exposure, until it is safe to put them in the greenhouse. Turn the plants every evening, so they grow straight, and pet them. Just run your hand gently over the seedlings at least twice a day. I also have a small fan on a timer. That emulates garden breezes and also keeps the stems strong. You will find that stragglers will keep coming up as the seeds can germinate at different times.

The greenhouse is not heated, however, we do have a space heater we use in the spring and fall when it gets too cold. Because the greenhouse was built over the cellar door, the temperature is a little warmer in spring, winter and fall, than it would be if it was a stand alone type. The stone steps absorb heat during the day if the sun is out and radiate it out during the night and there is some heat that migrates from the wood furnace and oil burner furnace. Living in zone 3-4, we can have temperatures into the 20’s in spring and fall. It can be really tricky, trying to figure out just when to move things to the greenhouse because every spring is different.

Last year we planted our tomatoes and peppers outside because we had to replace the roof on the greenhouse. Our peppers produced practically nothing, the tomatoes did better. The tomatoes had blossom end rot and cracking problems that they don’t usually have in the greenhouse, because we can control water and heat. In the fall we didn’t cover the peppers, why bother, and learned that peppers are frost hardy to a mild frost. That must be why, one year when the temperature went to 19 degrees outside, temperature difference is about 10 degrees warmer in our unheated greenhouse, after we put our tomatoes out in the greenhouse, the peppers survived better that the tomatoes. We lost half our tomato plants that spring.

When the tomato and pepper plants get to be between two and three inches high transplant them into pots to give them more space to grow until they can be planted outside or in the greenhouse.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse


Pepper plants in the greenhouse

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Author: tbenkovitz

I have been gardening for over 50 years, 38 of them as an organic gardener in the short season climate of upstate New York.

7 thoughts on “Tomatoes and Peppers

  1. Really enjoyed your blog, I am just starting a small greenhouse this year. I was glad to hear about the length of impatiens germination — I thought my seeds were bad. I will now wait a few more weeks on them.

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  2. I really enjoyed your blog, We are growing some Roma tomatoes our selves right now. We have a small grow room in our house using LED lights… Keep up the good work

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