Six Tender Crops to Sow in Spring for a Solanaceous Summer

by Tusha Yakovleva

Sow these seeds in early spring for fruitful solanaceous meals in late summer. 

Now that we are past Imbolc, with half the winter safely behind us, it’s time for gardeners to turn their thoughts toward spring and the first task of the season: seed starting. The sowing season begins in February and goes through May, with every week presenting new opportunities for seed starting. To organize your sowing calendar, we’ve put together Seed Starter Sets, paired based on their sowing preferences. In our previous article, we talked about the hardier crops that don’t mind a little cold weather, but now is also the time to start planning for the season’s most tender crops.


Intimidated by starting tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant from seed? They can be fussy, it's true, but the reward makes the extra effort well worth it. And, our Sow Indoors Early Starter Set of Tender Seeds makes it easy to try your hand at growing your own solanaceous fruits from seed. Each of the six varieties included is high yielding, disease resistant and tasty. All can be started indoors 8-10 weeks before your last spring frost, then transplanted outdoors after all threat of frost has passed. There are detailed planting instructions included with each pack, plus a robust archive of tips for sowing and growing tender crops on our blog. Meet the starter set tender crops:


Ping Tung Long Eggplant: Ping Tung quickly became a favorite at our farm. The shape makes it easy to handle and use in the kitchen and its flavor is exceptional. The plant does extremely well in the north. Ping Tung sets fruit earlier than most varieties, and keeps producing into the fall. Even though the fruits are smaller, the overall yield is higher. Sow: Sow indoors at least 6 weeks before last frost, then transplant once danger of frost has passed and soil is warm. Grow: Cover immediately with row cover, as flea beetles love to devour eggplant leaves. Eggplants want heat; choose your sunniest spot for them. Give them ample water, drip irrigation is best. Harvest fruits when young, about 4" for a delicate treat, or let them grow full size to 12-15" long.


Doe Hill Pepper: Doe Hill has all the sweetness and pizazz of other golden bell varieties without the finickiness and the long wait. It yields huge quantities of peppers on each plant, which is relatively compact, growing to about three feet in height. Excellent chopped up in salads, stuffed with fresh veggies and dressing on a crudite platter, or sauteed in olive oil and thrown on pasta. Sow: Pepper seed requires heat to germinate; it just won't do much in cool soil. Find a spot that is steadily warm; above the fridge may work, as might a spot near the wood stove. Sow pepper seeds by late March; they mature later in the season than tomatoes, and to get a good crop of ripe peppers requires an early start. Grow: Peppers should not be transplanted until the weather is settled, about two weeks after tomatoes go in. Row cover provides a warm microclimate for quicker growth. Although most pepper plants stay small, their stems are weak and, when loaded with fruit, tend to blow over in summer storms - stake them to prevent this. Harvesting green peppers increases the total amount of peppers you get from a plant.


Hidalgo Serrano Pepper: Serrano is a great hot pepper with punchy heat. Perfect for using raw in fresh salads, salsas and sauces. They also make a great pickled pepper. Serranos are usually picked green, but are also good when allowed to ripen red. Sow and Grow as above. 


Puebla Verde Tomatillo: Tomatillos are underappreciated by American gardeners. The plants are easy to grow and yield tons of husked fruit; under normal circumstances they have a long harvest season. Chopped with onions or scallions, hot peppers, vinegar, salt, and cilantro, they make a terrific salsa verde. When ripe, the fruits produced by this variety are larger and more yellowish-green than most. Sow: Start tomatillos 6 weeks before last frost. Transplant outdoors after threat of frost has passed. Grow: Tomatillos can be staked to make them easier to handle and take up less space in the garden. Harvest fruits when they have filled out the husk so that the seams are tight. To use, remove the husks and rinse first.


Cosmonaut Volkov Tomato: An excellent Northeast variety with a sweet and tangy flavor. Early enough for a quick Russian summer and with a taste that's positively celestial, Cosmonaut Volkov Tomatoes will land a regular spot in your garden. It has heavy yields of big fruit and is great for fresh eating! Sow: Sow indoors 3-8 weeks before last frost, then transplant 1-2 weeks after last frost. Grow: Indeterminate. Provide medium-fertility soil and a sturdy trellis. Stay on top of harvest for longest-producing, healthiest plants.


Pink Ping Pong Tomato: Yields loads of just-bigger-than-a-cherry tomato fruit on vigorous, resilient vines. The blemish-free, pink, ping pong ball sized fruits have a lovely flavor, are eminently useful, and yield well beyond other varieties. Sow and Grow as above. Indeterminate.