If you are planning to start your tomato and pepper plants from seed, now is the time to start thinking about which varieties you want to grow, and to place your orders from your favorite seed suppliers.
Pepper seeds need to be started indoors 10 weeks before the last frost date. Tomatoes should be started 6-8 weeks before the last frost. If you live near me then peppers should be started around March 1st and tomatoes should be started between March 15 and 29th.
What are last frost dates?
The last frost date where you live is the date in Spring after which you can statistically depend on no more hard killing frosts to happen. This is important to know because tender plants like peppers, tomatoes, basil, squash, will be killed by by a hard frost so if you plant too soon you can lose all your work. To be on the safe side, I always plan to put my pepper and tomato seedlings in the garden about 2 weeks after the average last frost, which works out to be around Memorial Day weekend for me. Late May in the suburbs west of Boston is also when the weather becomes pleasant enough for me to want to spend extended time outside planting. ( you can look up your frost dates by zipcode here)
Which peppers? Which Tomatoes?
When deciding which pepper seeds to buy, think about which varieties and types you usually buy from the store or farmers market (such as sweet bell peppers, or jalepenos). Consider also your favorite recipes (Serranos are great for home made salsa, Chiles de arbol are great for Indian cuisine) and whether you would like to pickle some (Pepperocinis are mild and perfect for adding to your sandwich, salad or pizza). There are no specific types of peppers that work better or worse in Square Foot Gardening. For tomatoes, you want to be sure to look for indeterminate types, so they will grow tall on a main stem for vertical growing on a trellis. (For more on tomato varieties see my post here)
How many plants do I need?
Chile peppers can grow abundantly on one plant so you won't need many seedlings of each type usually (by 'abundantly', I mean they just keep coming! maybe 40+ peppers per plant?). A bell pepper will produce about 5-8 fruits per plant. My husband loves super hot chile peppers so I always grow at least 9 types including habaneros, arbol, jalapenos, serranos, plus several types and colors of bell peppers and pepperocinis.
More about tomatoes and peppers later-- For now get ordering those seeds!