About a week ago, I did one of the most distasteful jobs of the spring. When I plant tomato seeds in cell trays to start raising the year’s plants indoors under fluorescent lights, I always use three seeds per cell. As soon as most have germinated, I thin to two tiny plants per cell; then when all have their first true leaves (different from the cotyledons, or ‘seed leaves’), I do the final thinning. With two healthy, nearly identical plants in each cell, it’s agonizing to choose the “winner” and snip off the “loser” with sterilized scissors--but it must be done. I base these decisions mainly on the stem diameter and strength, not the height of the plants. Shown here are plants in a 24-cell tray, now reduced to one plant per cell, partially hardened off by spending increasing times outdoors each day for a week.
Today I’m transplanting my first tray of plants into paper cups saved from lattes I've consumed over the past year. Tough duty, but I always manage to accumulate a few dozen. For details on transplanting techniques, see the METHODS & MATERIALS page in this blog. Here’s a typical plant before and after transplanting; note that I've removed the seed leaves and covered the stem to a point slightly above their former location.
Now for the final hardening off. These were started on April 15 (25 days ago) and should be ready to plant in one of their garden destinations during the first week in June, about 7 weeks after starting. At outdoor planting time, the top halves of those labeled latte cups will begin the last phase of their useful lives as cutworm collars around the stems of the plants they've helped nurture. I’ll bid a fond farewell to most of the bottom halves of the cups, although if some have survived in fairly good shape, they might do for starting next year’s pepper plants. I hereby resolve to empty even more new latte cups before next spring.