Seed Starting Madness Starts

Seasonal madness has started. Seed starting madness that is. There is still snow on the ground – although slowly melting, but this is the time of the year to start seeds for earlier crops.

In late January (1/25), I started a few Red Cherry tomatoes, as well as 2 flats of peppers. Four weeks later, Wetsel Red Cherry (2009) has had excellent germination. With true leaves showing, most of the seedlings have been transplanted and moved to the greenhouse 10 days ago. I purposefully did not transplant a few seedlings because I need them to demonstrate transplanting techniques in my upcoming Seed Starting Workshop on Saturday Feb 27. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest thing to eat, freeze and dry. They are simply wonderful in winter green salads. Can’t have too many of them. Every year I start a few plants extra early so we can start eating garden-grown tomatoes in June.

Not surprisingly, the fresher pepper seeds are doing a lot better than the old ones:

Pepper Seedlings under light
Pepper Seedlings Under Light

The spicy hot peppers have had good germination. They are about to be moved to the greenhouse for transplanting in individual cells:

  • Fish peppers, hot (2009)
  • Jalapeno M, hot (2007)
  • Serrano, hot (2010)
  • Ancho Pablano, categorized as hot, but really there are very mild (2010)

Peppers, sparse germination:

  • Sweet Round of Hungary (2008 seeds)
  • Jimmy Nardello’s Italian (2008 seeds)

Peppers, no germination – yet:

  • Aconcagua, bell (2007)
  • Quadrato D’Asti Rosso, bell (2007)
  • Keystone Giant, bell (2005)
  • Pizza (2006)
  • Sweet Italian (2007)
  • Goccia d’Oro, bell (2008). Delicately poking around, I can’t find the seeds: they rotted. Very disappointing since they weren’t that old

I know: the seeds which did not germinate are probably way too old, but I hate to just throw them. In the past I have found that the older seeds take a lot longer to germinate, so I have not given up on them yet. I may yet get one or two plants out of each batch. And since I am not a professional grower, that’s OK with me.

Friday and yesterday, I have started more peppers, under light and over the heat mat in the house.

  • Ashe County Pimento (2010)
  • Tequila Sunrise, frying (2010)
  • Sweet Banana, frying (2009)
  • Aji Amarillo, spice (2010)
  • Frigitello, frying (2010)
  • Sweet Chocolate, bell (2010)
  • Dulce Italiano (2010)
  • Carmagnola Rosso, bell (2010)
  • Giallo di Cuneo, bell(2010)
  • Lombardo, frying (2010)

Why so many peppers? Well, first pepper plants are not as productive as tomatoes, so you need more plants if you like them as much as tomatoes. We do eat them raw, fried, roasted, sauteed etc in season. They also preserve well pickled; roasted, packed in wide-mouth jars, and frozen; chopped and frozen. In winter the chopped and frozen peppers are used for stews, soups, chilies, pasta sauce. The roasted and frozen ones are great for lasagna, pasta, on pizza, in sandwiches or just as a side. Some peppers also dry very well, but I am still learning there: the mugginess of our Virginia summers offers some challenges to successful pepper drying.

Also started this weekend, were onions & leeks (I really should have started the onions 3 weeks ago, but…). Unlike other seeds of which it makes sense to buy more than you need for one year (and keep them in the proper conditions for the next few years), you must have fresh seeds for the onions family (onions, shallots, leeks), as the seeds remain good for only a year. So you must buy new seeds or save your own every year. Started:

  • Musselbrugh Giant leek
  • Lincoln leek
  • Guardman, bunching onions
  • Bianca di Maggio, mini-white onion
  • Rossa Lunga de Firenze, Cippola – to be started.

Those are in the green house, under screen to protect them from mice. They’ll be Ok with the cooler temperatures there.

Also started this past week-end, and on the heat mat in the house:

  • Parsley, Gigante di Napoli (2010)
  • Radicchio,Chioggia Red Preco (2010). I keep trying radicchio for spring planting, different sowing dates and different cultivars. They are somewhat iffy here in the Northern Piedmont, our summer are hotter than they like, our springs erratic, and our winter colder than they want. They’ll be a good candidate for hoop house growing this fall & winter.
  • Potato, Zolushka hybrid ($2.95 cents for 40 seeds). Every year I try something funky. This is one of the funky items this year.
  • Brussel Sprouts, Long Island (2002). I don’t have much hope for those seeds. Although brassica seeds keep a long time, I suspect those were stored too warm. But they were offered to me along with a bunch of other old seeds, and I don’t refuse seeds. We’ll see. I planted them VERY thick.


A flat of mixed viola & pansies was sowed, careful to only surface-sow the seeds as they need light to germinate. The flat is in a cold frame, as violas also need some cold to germinate. Once germination has started, I’ll move the flat back to the greenhouse for faster growing and back out again in early April. It would have been better to start those last fall to have rally robust plants, but I did not. I love violas and pansies – especially the smaller violas – in the garden with their little thoughtful faces. The flowers are edible, even if fairly tasteless – very pretty in salad or in dessert decorations.

Also a few rows of frisee endive ‘Rhodos’ started in a cold frame.

I also prepared flats for tomato planting, letting my soil mix absorb water overnight in the greenhouse. I’ll be sowing them later today, and move them the house, on the heat mat. Because of mice in the greenhouse, I start most of my seeds in the house (except those direct seeded, of course, or those that need stratification, like the violas or the primroses). It’s frustrating to come in one day and see the tiny digging that the mice neatly do, and the seed eaten, shell discarded. Only the outside is left as they chew the inside dormant germ. Cats and traps help only so much. Better to start the seeds inside the house, and move them to the greenhouse once germinated. The mice leave them alone then.

So.. seed starting madness has started here. What about you?

3 thoughts on “Seed Starting Madness Starts”

  • Last year none of our Jimmy Nardello’s germinated either. Maybe we both got seed from the same place.:) It sounds like you are off to a good start with a very nice variety of peppers for this seasons garden. It will be interesting to see what you think of the potatoes grown from seed.

    We just seeded our peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes and the onions are starting to come up in the greenhouse…and so it begins.

  • What a nice list of peppers! I plan on starting the peppers later, about mid-March. Once I’ve germinated them, I don’t have a good place for growing them on until it’s warm enough outside for them to go into the cold frame.

    Today I’m planting more onion seed, more lettuce seed, and a few flowers (petunias and alyssum).

  • Mike – 2008 seeds, I guess a little old. Still disappointing, should have had some better germination that I did with those Jimmy’s!
    I am passing on eggplants this year. I love them but I don’t grow them well. Will try again in a few years.

    entangled – Alyssum! I should sow some: their fragrance is so intoxicating. Some petunias smell wonderful too. Good to see everybody starting their gardening year.

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