O.K. You've nursed those seeds through the germination stage and
the fragile seedling stage. They are growing fine and you're ready to
move to the next step, moving them outdoors. There are 2 key stages
ahead the "Hardening Off" and the actual "Transplant" stage. Keep in
mind it will all be worth it. The selection of plants available from most
nurseries, discount stores and grocery stores is meager at best. By
starting your own seeds indoors you open yourself up to an endless
selection of Tomatoes and Peppers. Literally hundreds of varieties
each! Anyway the most crucial step is the next one.
This is absolutely KEY. Gardening is mostly common sense.
Keep in mind your plants have been in a
controlled indoor climate. Probably between 65 and 70 degrees with
no wind and partial sunshine through a sunny windowsill in most cases.
These are not the conditions outdoors where these tender
plants will have 30 degree swings in temperature, direct sunlight and
some windy conditions. Not to worry ... just let them adapt GRADUALLY.
I recommend bringing them outdoors the first day for 1/2 hour in just
partial sunlight in an area protected by the wind. Some gardeners
start out even simpler than this by opening the window where plants
are growing a few inches for an hour, then two, then three hours per
day. After your plants are outdoors for 1/2 hour somewhat protected
increase the time daily to 1 hour, 2, 3, 4, leading up to 8 hours per
day. Then leave them out overnight for a full day. As the amount of
hours increase you can gradually expose them to more direct
sunlight and some wind. Keep in mind the soil will dry faster outdoors
due to sun and wind so water more frequently outdoors. The soil in
containers will dry faster than your actual actual garden will. This
entire process takes about 2 weeks. If there is a thunderstorm or high
winds..obviously skip that day. Again your primary objective is to let
your plants acclimate gradually to the new outdoor environment.
You are just about there now. Your plants
are adjusted to being outdoors and you're moving them to their
permanent home. The key now is:
1. Don't disturb the roots.
2. Create a favorable soil environment.
3. Transplant the right depth.
To prepare the soil I like to mix into the hole a healthy shovelful of
sand (most tomatoes and peppers originated in a tropical
climate..besides sand allows the roots to aerate) and a shovelful of
composted cow manure or compost. This will continually feed your
plants throughout the growing season. Handle the roots gingerly and
place into hole about 1" above the established root line so that more
of the plant is underground than when in pots. Tomatoes and peppers
will grow additional roots from the stem that is now underground. This
will "anchor" the plant better and it will grow stockier. Immediately
water the plants well at the soil level. It's best to do your transplants
at early evening so that they are not immediately in full sunlight.
Watch the transplants closely the first week. If the weather is real
hot they'll need more water. If plants start to wilt slightly water them
right away. Occasionally I've had to partially shade them if the weather
was real hot with a temporary cardboard shelter.
Being a 100% organic operation I prefer
to give my plants a watering with fish emulsion every 2 weeks. On the
alternate weeks I'll spray them with 2 tbs. of epsom salt per quart of
water top give them a magnesium shot-in-the-arm. But any
commercial type of plant food will work if you are not an organic
gardener. I also prefer mulch to keep the soil moist. My preference is
grass clippings. I apply it around the stem about 2 weeks after
transplanting. You can actually make your garden maintenance free
by picking up grass clippings throughout the neighborhood and
spreading a 6" layer of mulch into the whole garden. If you're organic
just check with the homeowner to see if he uses chemicals. Actually
I seek out imperfect lawns with some weeds to be safe.
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Well..Great Gardening, Pepper Joe