Commentary by Noah Herron
Warm weather is right around the corner and it’s time to plan your garden. One thing people neglect to do is start their own tomato and pepper seeds a couple months before our last frost date. The time is now to pick out the varieties you want in your garden and start the seeds indoors. It doesn’t take much to care for a few seedlings other than giving them a sunny window and enough water. Why go with the same old boring Bonnie varieties at the garden center (Better Boy, Big Boy, Celebrity, etc.) when there are thousands of heirloom varieties that offer better taste and vigor?
There are several different types of tomatoes available for home gardeners. I suggest growing a few types that offer different benefits. The most common tomato to grow is a beefsteak, which is great for sandwiches, BLTs and burgers. Roma tomatoes are excellent for salsas, dips and sauces. Lastly, include a cherry tomato, which are great for fresh eating or salads. Below are some of my personal favorites but I encourage you to try varieties you’ve never heard of.
Beefsteak: Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, German Giant, http://www.ufseeds.com/Crnkovic-Yugoslavian-Tomato-Seeds.item Crnkovic Yugoslavian
Roma: San Marzano, Federle, Napoli
Cherry: SunSugar, Sweetie, Black Cherry, Blondkopfchen
Peppers are pretty simple with not too many options. Try to include at least six pepper plants to make sure there are enough fresh peppers all summer and fall. The most popular pepper is the sweet bell which is excellent for salads and slicing. Also elongated sweet peppers make great stuffers and stir fry. If you like hot there are many options depending on how hot. Starting with hot wax, jalapenos, Anaheim chillies, cayenne, habanero, ghost and carolina reapers being the hottest! Ghost peppers can reach 1 million Scovilles while Carolina Reapers can reach 1.5 million!
Sweet Bell: California Wonder, Orange King, Yolo Wonder
Sweet Elongated: Sweet banana, Beaver Dam, Pepperoncini Italian
Hot Peppers: Early Jalapeno, Cubanelle, Anaheim Chili, Orange Habanero
Once you have your varieties selected you’ll need a good seed starting soil and some containers. Plant a couple seeds per container about 1/4” deep and cover lightly with soil. Keep soil moist but not damp at all times while growing inside. When seeds are germinating keep in a warm location without light. Using a heat mat keeps soil warm and increase germination rates. Once your seeds have sprouted move to a sunny window and keep there until ready to transplant outdoors. If both seeds germinated remove the weakest plant so each container has only one seedling. Remember to harden off your plants before taking outside. The last frost date for Hamilton County is usually around Mother’s Day. Once transplanted you should have your first harvest within a couple months. Enjoy the delicious flavor of your heirloom tomatoes and peppers that you can’t buy anywhere else!