Winter is a fun time of year for gardeners. We get to browse the colorful seed catalogs, gardening magazines, books, and websites while dreaming and planning our next beautiful, prolific, and fragrant gardens.
Growing vegetable plants from seed is not a difficult thing to do at all. Quite the contrary, it’s actually very rewarding and a good thing to do while it’s still cold outside and you are itching to dig in the dirt.
To start veggie seeds indoors all you need are some containers, a seed starting mix, a light source, water and, of course, seeds. Most seed packets will tell you when to start your seeds indoors, or if your seeds can just be planted directly into your garden.
First, here are five reasons to consider seeds over plants:
1. Abundant variety
You get to choose a great-tasting heirloom tomato over the typical, ho-hum plants you might find at a store. When you grow from seed, you get to make the decision of which variety for every vegetable. Ahhh the choices…so many types. Wish I had more room!
2. Push the season
If you use a season extender, like a greenhouse, you can plant your plants sooner than they may be available at the local garden center. In areas where the growing season is short, like here in Zone 5, this can make a big difference.
3. Save money
One pack of seeds will produce a lot more plants per penny compared to buying them already started. Plus, if you grow heirlooms, you can save the seeds and regrow them every year. Even the seeds from some hybrid plants produce wonderfully the following year.
4. Help our bee friends
I recently read that some companies treat the seedling’s soil with insecticides. Not good. Instead purchase an organic seed-starting mix so you know your plants won’t be hurting the environment or killing the beneficial bugs.
5. Satisfaction and security
There’s not too much more satisfying than growing your own vegetables. The ability to grow your own food gives you the freedom to be less dependent on others for what you need. Plus it’s a great educational family activity.
Okay, have I convinced you do grow from seed? I admit I used to buy only veggie plants from a local nursery. I still do occasionally if I see something that tickles my fancy. Growing plants from seed is very satisfying and fun plus you get a jump-start on spring planting.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a yard! Many vegetables and herbs are excellent grown in large containers and patio pots. You still need plenty of light, though, so choose a balcony or porch that’s bright and sunny.
Vegetable Reality Check
Okay time out…before you actually start buying seeds, start asking yourself some important questions…especially if you are new to gardening. Do you know how much sun your veggie garden will receive? Most vegetables need at least six hours of full sun daily. Also consider the growing requirements of those cool seeds you’re contemplating – just how big is your garden, and how much room will those seeds require when they grow into mature plants? Keeping these realities in mind as you decide which seed varieties to buy will help ensure a successful harvest later.
Here’s a well done step-by-step video I found on You Tube:
Growing from seed not only gives you a much larger selection of fine vegetables to choose from – including unusual varieties you’re unlikely to find at garden centers – it also lets you get a jump on the growing season by starting many plants indoors.
Okay When Should I Start My Veggie Seeds Indoors?
When to start seeds indoors is a little tricky: Check seed packets for “days to germinate” and how many weeks growth each variety of seedling needs before being transplanted to the garden, then count backwards from your area’s last frost date. (For Zone 5 it’s listed as April 30th, but I add two weeks to that and don’t plant until after May 15th). You don’t want to start too early, or your seedlings may grow leggy and weak.
You’ll need peat pots, pellets, plastic flats, egg cartons with holes poked in the bottom, or other shallow containers with good drainage; growing medium (a special soil-less mix for seeds is best); a plastic humidity cover or plastic bag; plus water, fertilizer, labels, warmth and light.
If you re-use plastic pots or flats, make sure they are thoroughly clean. Fill them with moistened mix to within 1/2 inch of top. Or use peat pellets, which expand when moistened and can be transplanted intact, without disturbing delicate roots. Whatever containers you use, place them in a waterproof tray so you can add water from the bottom, so seeds aren’t disturbed. Keep the mix damp, but not soggy.
Plant seeds according to packet directions – generally, two or three times as deep as the seed’s diameter. Seeds that need light to germinate should barely be covered.
TIP: I use the eraser end of a pencil to create small indents into the soil…about a 1/4 inch. For tiny seeds only indent 1/8 inch and medium size seeds can be pushed into the soil.
Label each container with the plant name and variety (don’t forget this step!) and date of sowing, then cover it with a humidity dome or place it in a plastic bag until seeds germinate – but allow for air circulation by not sealing the bag. Bottom warmth (75 to 85 degrees F) helps seeds germinate, so set trays on an electric heat mat, or atop a refrigerator.
Once seeds germinate, they need plenty of light. A sunroom or windowsill that gets lots of natural light (with daytime temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees F) might work, but most gardeners will need to put their seedlings under fluorescent lights for 12 to 16 hours a day. Inexpensive “shop lights” will work fine…you don’t need to get real fancy or expensive. Position the lights immediately above the seedlings, and adjust upwards as the plants grow. When plants have two sets of true leaves, add half-strength liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion to the watering tray once a week.
Some seedlings may have to be transplanted into larger pots to give them room to grow and develop their healthy root systems. Use the same procedure and mix as for seeds. Handle the baby plants gently by their leaves, not stems or roots, and try to keep the tiny root balls intact as you move plants to their new pots. Poke a hole in the moistened mix with your finger, place seedlings in the hole, and gently firm mix to eliminate air pockets. Water and fertilize as before, and provide plenty of light and gentle air circulation.
How & When To Transplant
Your young plants need to be hardened-off before you can transplant them into the outdoor garden. That means gradually adjusting them to the outdoors by setting them out in a sheltered, shady spot for a few hours a day. Each day, increase the time and the light exposure. Keep them watered, since small pots will dry out quickly outdoors.
After 7 – 10 days, plants should be ready to be transplanted into the garden – though you may still want to cover them with sheets of newspaper at night if temperatures are particularly cool.You don’t want them to go into shock.
To plan the best time to start seedlings indoors in spring, you need to know the approximate date of the average last spring frost in your area. Count back from that date the number of weeks indicated below to determine the appropriate starting date for various crops. An asterisk (*) indicates a cold-hardy plant that can be set out 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost.
12 to 14 weeks: onions*, leeks*, chives*
8 to 12 weeks: peppers, lettuce*, cabbage-family crops*
6 to 8 weeks: eggplants, tomatoes
2 to 4 weeks: cucumbers, melons, okra, pumpkins, squash
This year I plan to start several vegetables indoors including “Tomatoberry” described as a pretty, heart-shaped and quite tasty tomato. My husband loves tomatoes! Also we both enjoy sweet peppers and I will start “Good as Gold” a prolific, orange, banana-shaped pepper. Beans are another veggie favorite and I will try “Beananza” a dwarf French bean that produces twice as long as most beans. The flavor is described as sweet, nutty, and delicious. Intriguing…I can’t wait to get started!
This is where I purchase most of my seeds…everything from Artichokes to Zucchini:
Flower Chick’s Favorite Vegetable Seeds