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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Last year I started my tomato and pepper plants in early Febuary, and we didn't begin getting tomatoes until August and we didn't get any peppers before the frost killed them. I'm thinking about starting seeds a little earlier this year. My bedroom stays around 65 at night and 70-75 during the day. I have thought about using an incubator to start the seed in, and then transferring them to my bookshelf. I would be sitting them on a heating pad (under tank reptile heating pad) when they got moved to the bookshelf. I always have my fan running on low, so air circulation isn't a problem, and I have UV bulbs that are too weak for the reptiles, but are still a good strength for the plants.

Right now my incubator is holding steady at 90 degrees on the lowest setting. I'm thinking about barely opening one of the windows just enough to let a little heat out and try to get it down around 75-80 before I start my seed. Is this still too hot for starting pepper and tomato seed? I have a forced air incubator if that makes a difference.

So what are your thoughts about my plan for this year? I am in Zone 7b, and our last frost date is April 15th. I have various sized pots and containers to transplant the plants into so they do not become root bound.

Thanks!
Emily in NC
 

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I didn't start my tomatoes until late Feb but by mid-July we were getting good crops. Had lots of peppers too but the wild rabbits kept eating them.

What varieties did you try last year and how did you grow them?

As for your original question, I have found that small transplants grow faster and produce better than large transplants. I like to have mine ready to plant out when they have only 2 or 3 pairs of true leaves. I wouldn't push the tomatoes back any sooner. Peppers I would, they can be grown in pots until they get to be pretty big, if the pot is large enough you only have to transplant the one time. If you can afford it I would go with the heat seed starting mats. The seeds need warm temps but the seedlings don't. IMO the incubator is not a good idea. Too warm and probably not enough air circulation. Once the seeds sprout you don't need the bottom heat. I would just put them under lights in the bedroom, sounds like it should be warm enough there. The seeds will still sprout, it just takes them a few days longer.
 

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did you grow some varieties that have a shorter time to harvest than others? Look on the seed packages. I plant some that I can harvest early and some later. I agree with Danaus29- larger transplants don't mean earlier tomatoes. I try for 8 weeks growth before setting them out in the garden.

What kind of spring weather did you have? That could have set them back a bit also.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
We just grew some better boy tomatoes along with some beefsteak (the beefsteak produced right on time) and some green bell peppers (I do not know which variety). We rarely have a frost after the middle of March, but it can be windy through the entire month of March. We hardened off the seedlings for 2 weeks on our front porch (sheltered from the wind, and indirect sunlight is available there). They grew wonderfully, but did not produce much. I'm wanting to grow some habaneros this year in addition to the bell peppers. I also want to start getting into the heirloom varieties instead of relying on hybrids so much, that way I can save seed from year to year.

Thanks!
Emily
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Not yet. I had rabbit manure, lime, and compost (composted hay mostly) over all of the beds. I'm going to see if my ag. office can do soil testing for free.

I probably have too much nitrogen in the soil right now. Last year was the first year we had a garden in nearly 5 years, and we've had weeds growing there during that five years. We tilled the weeds in, and pulled out the big ones, and mulched with shredded newspaper around everything except the tomatoes and peppers (they were in the same row). We mulched them with black plastic to help with the heat. It didn't ever get unbearably hot, but it didn't ever get cold either. The hottest day was around 95, and the coolest night was around 75 while the garden was up and running. We did have a hailstorm come through at the beginning of August last year, and that may of had a lot to do with them not producing. My family eats a lot of bell peppers, and they're too expensive to buy!

Keep the suggestions and ideas coming!
Emily in NC
 

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I was thinking low in phosporous maybe. It's quite odd that in NC you didn't get any peppers or tomatoes and started them in Feb. We don't start ours until March, they go in the ground in mid to late May, and give peppers and tomatoes in late July through frost.

It sounds like something isn't balanced properly in your soil.
 

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I was wondering about the soil as well. We haven't had any not make fruit before the frost up here in WI. And I don't start them till March.
 
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Not yet. I had rabbit manure, lime, and compost (composted hay mostly) over all of the beds. I'm going to see if my ag. office can do soil testing for free.

I probably have too much nitrogen in the soil right now.
Sounds like it to me. That will give you pretty foliage but little or no fruit.
 

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Many gardeners in your area would be ecstatic about getting tomatoes in August. That's usually when Fusarium and every other disease comes along to kill every non-hybrid. I'd trade late tomatoes for dead plants any day.

However, you've got something way out of balance with the soil and there's no way that any of us can give you a definite answer for a cure. Being in NC, you could have started with acidic soil. If so, the addition of manure and lime would not have created an alkaline pH problem. Your pending soil test will probably confirm that it's OK.

What is suspected is the double whammy of nitrogen. Rabbit manure is normally 2.4% nitrogen. That also happens to be the same as alfalfa hay. Peppers are especially affected by excess nitrogen. You may be advised to substitute straw for hay as composted mulch if your soil test comes up too high.

Martin
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I don't use alfalfa hay with the bunnies, it has too much calcium and protein for them. They typically get timothy or fescue, which ever I can trade for at the moment.
 

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How can I get it balanced before I plant anything this year?

Emily
It will be fine this year - just don't add more manure before you plant. If you want to fertilize your garden - do it in the fall so any fresh manure has a chance to decompose. Fertilize tomatoes after they set their first fruits and then with a balanced fertilizer, not just nitrogen.
 
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