I got my indoor seeds planted today. I've found eight to ten weeks is long enough to get everything up and growing and hardened off, ready to plant. Since I won't plant any of them outside until after Memorial Day, today was a fine time to get them started. They won't be as big as the plants you can buy in the garden shops in May. But I think my smaller plants undergo less transplant shock, and do catch up quickly once the warm weather gets here. More about the process here.
Those of you following along at home, start saving your eggshells, too. I just keep mine in an open jar under the kitchen counter. They dry out, so don't smell or attract ants. When the jar gets full, I use a potato masher to crush them down. When it's time to set my tomatoes, peppers, chiles, and eggplants out in the garden, I add some eggshell (calcium) and Epsom salts (magnesium) to the planting hole to prevent blossom end rot. It's a good idea to pick up some Wall-o-Waters if you see them in the store, too. I reuse the same ones year after year. I put them around my plants when I set them out, and leave them on until July. They both keep the plants warmer at night and provide protection from our notorious Washoe Zephyr.
Most years, we can count on around a 100-day growing season for our tender crops. Pass up those Brandywine tomatoes, and go for the Early Girls if like eating home-grown ripe tomatoes. Here's what I started today - varieties I've found that usually will produce a pretty good harvest in our high-desert climate. Many of these can be found in the seed racks at Wal-Mart or any of the grocery stores. This is enough for the two of us to eat fresh, put by for the winter, and still have some extras to give away:
1 Early Girl tomato - the most reliable, fresh-eatin' tomato
1 Sweet 100 tomato - for snacking on, right there next to the plant
6 CC (for Carson City) Paste tomatoes; to can, slices to dry, plus they'll also store until after New Year's - I started with an Amish Paste tomato 25 years ago. I kept saving seeds from the biggest, earliest couple of tomatoes each year, and now have my own "heirloom" that reliably produces big, early, bunches of tomatoes. I don't bother with the fermenting-seeds-in-water bit everyone tells you to do - I just cut the fruit open, squoosh the seedy gel out with my finger, and wipe it onto a piece of paper. When dry, I fold up the paper and store it in an envelope in my seed box. When it's time to plant, I just scratch the seeds off the paper and stick 'em in the dirt.
6 CC Chile peppers - same story - I started with an Anaheim/California green chile years ago, and saved the seeds from the biggest, earliest couple of fruits each year
6 California Wonder bell peppers - still working on getting a good, early bell pepper. This is an heirloom so has some good possibilities
6 Jalapeno peppers - up from my usual two plants. The jalapeno jelly I made last year is soooo good, I want to make sure I have enough plants to make a batch or even two this year. If I end up with a bumper crop, it's easy to put together a smoker to make chipotles - maybe I'll try canning a batch in adobo.
6 Ancho chile peppers - the additional chile for this year. Every year, I grow and dry or can enough of one different chile - cayenne, paprika, relleno, pimiento, etc. - to last for the next 3-4 years. I just broke open one of last Ancho I grew, strung up in a ristra hanging in my kitchen, and planted those seeds. They should still be viable.
1 Habanero pepper - I usually end up buying a plant at the store. If I want to grow my own, I should probably start it in January instead of waiting until now. One plant will usually produce enough to make a batch of my favorite hot sauce each year.
2 Clemson Spineless okra - yes, you can grow okra here. And why deal with spines if you don't have to? It's an heirloom variety, but I've never managed to save viable seeds so I buy a packet every few years.
3 Black Beauty eggplant - I like them better than the Japanese type, plus they'll last in storage 'til the first of the year. Same as the okra, it's an heirloom variety, but I've never managed to save viable seeds.
2 basil - enough to eat fresh, dry some, plus freeze a few batches of pesto, too
2 green tomatillos - last year, I just picked out the biggest fresh tomatillo I could find in the grocery store, and did the same squoosh-the-seeds-onto-paper that I do for tomatoes. I got a nice harvest of good-sized tomatillos, and saved the seeds from the biggest, earliest ones to plant this year.
I also started six-packs of early Golden Acre cabbage, late Dutch Ballhead cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, raddichio, Joi Choi, Tuscan kale, and both orange and yellow calendulas, plus a couple chard, red kale, and blue kale plants. But those are all cold-hardy veggies, so just about any variety of those plants will do ok here. All of those will get set out the end of May too, to grow through the summer for a fall harvest.