Over the past several years, starting seeds indoors in February or March has become a tradition in my home. Our kids look forward to helping plant and water the seeds, and get especially excited when the seedlings poke through the soil for the first time! We have a large, south-facing sunroom so it is the perfect environment for seedlings to grow.
We are expanding our seed-starting operation this year to do the starts for my father and brother in law’s (Hannah’s husband) market garden. The market garden will feature organically grown produce that will be offered at the local Farmer’s Market and limited CSA shares during the first year. This means a LOT more seeds need to be started!
There are many advantages to starting seeds indoors versus directly seeding them. Transplanting can extend your growing season by several weeks because you are starting the plants weeks before the last frost. It allows you to closely control and monitor the environment when your plants are most vulnerable.
Planting indoors also improves your plants chances of success because they aren’t competing with any weeds. While there are upfront costs to growing your own food, many of the products can be used year after year. In the end, starting your own seedlings saves you money by not having to purchase them every year!
Before starting your seeds, you will need to sit down and plan out where you want your garden to be located and how you want it to look. I like to used raised beds in my garden because I live in an urban area without much acreage. This saves on space and ensures I am growing my food in quality soil. Here is more information on raised bed gardening. I highly recommend looking into this method of gardening if you are tight on space, new to gardening, or dislike weeding.
The seed packets for this post were provided by Johnny’s Seeds, but all opinions are completely my own.
Things to Consider Before Planting
I love browsing different seed catalogs, like this one from Johnny’s Seeds, to get ideas on what to plant in my garden. Only grow things that you know you will eat, this will save a lot of wasted space in your garden. Every year I save a little space in the garden to pick a few different varieties of plants I have never tried before. We bought all of our seeds this year from Johnny’s Seeds. They offer a variety of organic, hybrid and heirloom seeds and are committed to not selling anything that has been genetically modified. To find out more about the difference between heirloom, hybrid and GMO seeds, read this informative article.
When to Plant
Timing is crucial when starting seeds indoors. As a general rule, seeds can be started six to eight weeks before the last frost in your area. Here is a handy chart to find out what gardening zone you’re located in. Planning out what and when you want to plant does take some time, but will save you a lot of wasted time in the long run. Peppers, tomatoes, and cabbages are vegetables that commonly need to be started indoors.
Cell flats, like the one below, are seed starting plastic containers that are split into individual compartments. This allows each plants root system to develop and not become tangled with the other plants, which makes for easy transplanting. Keeping your plants watered using this Seed Starter Germination Kit is so easy! By pouring water into the bottom tray, it creates a self-watering system. If treated properly, cell flats can be reused for several years.
There are a few options when it comes to the soil you can use. You can choose to make your own potting mix or buy it. Here is a great tutorial on how to make your own potting soil if you are feeling adventurous! If you are a beginner, I would just simplify the process and buy the soil. This is the potting mix I recommend.
It is important to monitor the temperature of the room where your seedlings are growing. You will want to keep the temperature around 70 degrees during the germination period. After germination, keep the room temperature between 65 and 75 degrees. To ensure optimum germination, I like to use a heating pad that has the ability to raise the temperature by 10-20 degrees above the air temperature. Using the plastic dome cover on the cell flat and the heating pad underneath, creates a greenhouse-like environment. This traps moisture and heat which keeps the plants and soil from drying out.
Most vegetable seedlings require 14-16 hours of light per day. If you have a south-facing room or window, you may be able to get by without any artificial light. I have a south-facing sunroom that is perfect for growing plants, but I still like to use a grow light system as it is still cloudy a lot of the time during the late winter and spring months. The grow light should be positioned approximately four inches above the tops of the plants. You can put the lights on a timer so that they will turn on and off automatically.
Seed Starting Steps:
- Pour potting mix into a large container and combine with water until moistened. You will want it to be almost wet enough to form a ball.
- Fill containers to just below the top of each cell with moistened potting mix.
- Poke a hole in each cell to the depth instructed on the seed packet.
- Place one seed in each hole and cover lightly with soil.
- Fill the lower tray with water so that it can begin self-watering and then place the cells into the tray.
- Don’t forget to label each tray with the name of the seed you planted!
- Once the seedlings pop up through the soil, take off the plastic cover and place under the grow light.
- After the second set of leaves appear, transplant the seedlings to larger pots where they will remain until planted outdoors. These are the pots I use.
- Approximately one to two weeks before you anticipate transplanting, begin hardening off the plants. This means that you gradually get the plants acclimated to the wind and sun outside. Do this by placing them outdoors for one hour the first day and gradually increasing the amount of time each day for the next 7-10 days.
Developing your gardening skills can take years, but remember it is okay to start small and just enjoy the learning process! It is so fulfilling to prepare and preserve the vegetables and herbs you grew from a small seed. It may take many years of trial and error to get your garden to the way you want it, but nothing is more rewarding than growing your own food.
Photography by Chelsea Lusk Photography
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