When to Start Tomatoes & Peppers and 5 Crops to Start Outside B4 the Last Frost (3/12 - Zone 5)

Today is the busiest day of our spring planting schedule.

We'll plant more crops today than on any other day of the year,

but because we stretch out our planting over 4 months - from February to May -

even the busiest day isn't all that busy.

Today I'll plant some of our favorite summer crops: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and basil

and I'll show you when to plant yours based on your last frost date.

but first I'll plant 6 cool weather crops under cold frames.

Five of these crops you can start before your last frost date even if you're not growing under cover.

The 6 cool weather crops are arugula,

beets, bok choy, carrots,

rutabaga, and turnips.

Using seed packets, The Farmer’s Almanac,

“The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible”, and “Square Foot Gardening” as sources,

let’s look at when we can plant these crops without protection

relative to our last frost date,

which is at the end of April.

Bok Choy can be planted outside on or after the last frost date.

Beets, rutabaga, and turnips can be planted 2 to 4 weeks before the last frost.

Carrots can be planted 3 to 5 weeks before,

and arugula 5 to 7 weeks before.

So, even without protection, all of these crops except bok choy

can be started before the last frost,

assuming the ground isn’t covered with snow and the soil is workable.

To figure out when you can plant these crops outside in your area,

just count back from your last frost date,

which can be found online.

Now let’s look at when I can plant them in a cold frame.

My rule of thumb for cool weather crops

is to move the start date 3 to 4 weeks earlier

for each layer of protection used.

I’m using one layer,

so moving the date ranges four weeks earlier,

we see that it’s safe to plant everything this weekend except for bok choy.

However, because there are only a few nights in the extended forecast that dip below freezing,

and I can cover the bok choy cold frame with row cover if needed,

I feel comfortable pushing the limits and starting bok choy too.

Now let's get started with today's work.

Last weekend I set up cold frames in a variety of locations around the garden to warm up the soil,

and earlier today I amended the soil with vermicompost.

So, now I'm ready to plant.

I'll plant beets, carrots, rutabagas, and turnips under this cold frame.

I showed how we plant beets and carrots in my last video,

so I’ll focus on rutabagas and turnips today.

I plant turnip seeds about ½ inch deep and 4 inches apart.

I sow rutabaga seeds ½ inch deep and 5 inches apart.

We love beets, carrots, and turnips, so I plant more under this cold frame.

And next I'll plant bok choy under this cold frame.

I’m using old seeds that may not have a great germination rate,

so I plant many more seeds than are recommended for this space.

Even if they all come up, we can always thin them out by eating baby greens.

I plant the seeds about ¼ inch deep.

Finally, we'll plant arugula here where we've warmed up the soil with this clar plastic tote

and this re-purposed refrigerator drawer.

I sow the arugula seeds about ¼” deep.

As I often do with greens, I plant more than recommended

and will thin them later by eating baby greens.

Because arugula prefers cooler soil temperatures,

I’ll remove the cold frame now

and return it only if I need to protect the arugula from extreme cold or snow.

After planting, I give the soil a good soaking and return the covers to the cold frames,

except for arugula, which is left uncovered.

After seedlings emerge, I’ll be careful to vent the cold frames to protect the plants from too much heat.

In early April, I plan to remove the cold frames entirely.

Now that we're done with our cool weather crops for the day, it's time to start some of our favorite summer crops -

tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and basil.

Let's start by looking at when these plants can be started indoors relative to the last frost date.

Basil can be started 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost.

Eggplant 4 to 7 weeks before.

Tomatoes 6 to 8 weeks before,

and peppers 8 to 10 weeks.

So, we’re right on time to start tomatoes and eggplants,

a little late to start peppers,

and a little early still for basil.

Fortunately, we’ve already started most of our peppers,

and I feel comfortable starting basil a week earlier than recommended

given our unseasonably warm weather.

Okay, let's start planting some seeds.

I'm using re-purposed food containers for my pots

and a soil mix consisting of 2 parts coconut coir, 1 part worm castings,

1 part commercial potting mix, and 1 part coarse sand.

I plant 3 seeds in each container to ensure at least one germinates.

I plant tomato seeds ½ inch deep,

pepper and eggplant seeds ¼ inch deep,

and I just barely cover basil seeds.

I start 18 tomatoes today,

but far fewer peppers because I already started several a couple weeks ago.

I then water the pots

and move them to the grow room, where they’ll stay until the 7th or 14th of May, depending on the weather.

Though we like to push the limits when starting cool weather crops outside, we've never done so with summer crops.

But today, as an experiment, I'll start a small number of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants

in jugs like this inside the hoop house.

I plant 2 jugs with sweet million tomatoes, 1 jug with Jimmy Nardello peppers,

and 1 jug with Japanese White Egg Eggplants.

I started these same crops in the grow room today

and over the course of the growing season, I’ll compare how well the plants started outside do

compared to those started in the grow room.

And that completes our work for today.

As I mentioned earlier, today is the busiest day on our spring planting schedule,

but I think you'll agree that even our busiest day isn't all that busy.

Our next planting will be 2 weeks from now when we plant potatoes under protection.

Well, that's all for now. Thank you very much for watching,

and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.