I believe there are busy gardeners all over the capital sprouting seeds in pots and cans and flats at this very minute, and what they intend to do with the infant plants nobody knows.
You can read in books that such-and-such a plant "may be started indoors the end of January" and so it can, but hardly anything can be planted out safely before April 10 around here, and even then a good bit of hardening off is required before the wee one can stand life in the great outdoors.
Tomatoes and peppers do not go out until mid-May, though you can gamble on April 26, if you feel particularly macho and don't mind occasional slaughters.
It can be a royal inconvenience to have tiny plants sprouting now. They need sun and uninterrupted growth. Unless you are some sort of genius or magician, it is virtually impossible to keep them stocky and feisty for all those weeks before they go outdoors. They stretch toward the light and look like green worms long before it is safe to plant them permanently.
Some years I have planted tomato seeds outdoors in May and had good results, though of course you can't have tomatoes by July 6 if you do this. As a compromise between planting in January or February indoors or planting in May outdoors, you might try planting seeds of tender things like tomatoes, petunias, zinnias and so forth in mid-March indoors.
For many gardeners the tomato has a sacred quality, and they grow them as if in some priestly command of Druids. They may have little sun, and it would make more sense to grow roses in the one sunny place they have, but they are on fire for tomatoes. I know now that there is no point saying anything reasonable to them -- it would be like arguing against their religion.
A soft-cover book "The Total Tomato" (Harper & Row, $8.95) may be what they are looking for. Its 206 pages are full of sound observations and there are comments on about 300 tomato varieties. All you have to do is plant tomatoes in good soil in the sun, see that they do not lack water, and that's it; but for gardeners who attach near-divine qualities to the tomato, a book is fine, since it permits more elaborate ruminations than the simple direction to stick them in the sun and let 'em go.
One reason this book is so satisfying is that its author, Fred Dubose, has actually grown tomatoes himself, in Connecticut, Europe, Australia, Tonga and places like that.
Pennsylvania State University is also enamored of the tomato and has compiled a select list of varieties recommended for home gardeners. An early one called Celebrity is suggested, and so are Jet Star, Better Boy, Duke, Burpee Big Girl, Freedom, Supersonic, Royal Flush, Supersteak Hybrid and Pale King.
Some gardeners like to can tomatoes or make sauce or juice from them for winter use. For the home processor Roma II and LaRoma are suggested for sauce, paste or catsup; Duke, Heinz 1350 and Campbell 1327 for canning, and Supersteak Hybrid, LaRoma, Bragger, The Juice and Jet Star for making juice.
I have not grown many tomatoes myself, but Park's Whopper is one that did particularly well.
Bell peppers, which I never get too many of, are at least as tender to cold as tomatoes, so don't get ahead of yourself on them, either. I have only grown them twice, and with rather poor results because I could not give them enough sun. Those who grow them will be interested to hear that Penn State finds gardeners commonly give them twice as much nitrogen, in fertilizers, as necessary. They apparently like a more alkaline soil than we give them, but I have no intention of throwing lime around my garden. God made it for azaleas, and nuts to lime-lovers. Peppers do well enough, without any added lime, provided the soil has plenty of humus in it.
Penn State found that by giving potassium, magnesium and plenty of calcium they increased yields from the average seven tons an acre to 12.
They also found out that plastic mulch and irrigation increased their yields 25 percent or more.
You can get peppers cheap at the end of the season, slice them up and put them directly in the freezer in plastic bags without any processing and have them all winter. I mention this so you won't feel too bad if you don't grow peppers but pine for them in February.
Penn State calls attention to Bell Boy as a good home pepper, and among other vegetable varieties they think worth boosting are Red Ace beets; Packman and Prominence broccoli; Blueboy cabbage; Dasher cucumber; Imperial eggplant; Sunburst squash; and Bush Jubilee watermelon.