Try Italian Heirloom Tomatoes and Fish Peppers, new for 2019
There’s no doubt that spring is in full swing here in western Massachusetts. The robins are singing, the forsythias in bloom, and the peepers sound like they are throwing one heck of a party in every vernal pool. This is the best time to plant the hardy varieties like peas, mustard greens, and arugula directly into the garden.
It’s also not too late to start your heat-loving seeds, like tomatoes and peppers indoors. If you start them sometime this week or next, they will have about 6 weeks of growth before they are ready to transplant them in the garden after all danger of frost has passed (here in New England - we're in hardiness zone 5, that’s around the first of June). At Ox and Robin, we put out the tomatoes and peppers throughout the first week of June.
Italian Heirloom Tomato produces loads of bright red fruits that each weigh about a pound. They have an exceptional taste and are just as great on a salad as they are in sauces. Just a week ago, I opened one of the jars of Italian Heirloom sauce from last summer, adding it to a stew that had simmered in the crockpot for hours. It was like a burst of summer! You can’t get that sort of complex, rich tomato taste like that from a store-bought jar.
Fish pepper is a strikingly beautiful plant. The leaves are variegated or white and green. Like the leaves the peppers are also multi-colored, starting out as a cream or light green color with darker stripes. As the fruits mature, they turn either red, orange or purple. The history of Fish pepper is interesting, too. Originally from the Caribbean, these peppers are an African American heirloom from the 1900’s. They were frequently added to seafood dishes in the Chesapeake Bay area around that time. A medium hot pepper, they can be used for cooking either in the green or mature stage. The peppers are are also great for drying when they are mature.
Here’s a few simple tips for getting your tomatoes and peppers growing right:
Use a sterile soil starting mix or potting soil as garden soil can expose fragile seedlings to disease and may not have the right nutrients to get them started right.
Consider setting up a grow light, or a less expensive shop light and a heating mat to ensure your seedlings get steady heat and enough light (14-16 hours per day). Investing in a thermostat that plugs into the heating mat will allow you to keep the seed tray at the right temperature for germination and growth.
Water regularly so that the potting soil or seed starting mix stays moist as seedlings will quickly die if they get dried out. Also make sure that your set up will allow the soil to drain ( a black plastic tray filled with plastic inserts or compostable pots is a great way to go, and quite affordable).
Transplant when the roots of the seedling start to get to the edge of the pot or cell to prevent the roots from circling around. There are quite a few different sizes of seed starting pots and cells available in most garden stores. In 6 weeks, you’ll probably need to transplant at least twice before setting the young plants into the garden.