Starting Vegetable & Herb Seeds Indoors There are some really good reasons to start your vegetables & herbs indoors from seed and many folks purchase now to do just that.
WHY START SEEDS INDOORS? Starting your seeds indoors you are approx. 4-6 weeks ahead of crops started by seed in spring directly sown into the ground. It's great if you live in areas where summer heat comes fast or you have short growing seasons like those in the Northeast and Midwest. Where it heats up fast, this can mean the difference between a good crop of spring vegetables that like the cool temps such as peas, head lettuces, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower and not getting a good crop. If you live in areas like those of us in Vermont that have short summers, heat-loving plants like tomatoes will get in the ground sooner from the seedlings you have started indoors and you'll be able to harvest before the cool weather sets back in and enjoy them. The plants that you have sown indoors will be heartier and able to withstand summer temps better. Sowing from seed in or outdoors also allows you better varieties to choose from than picking up young plants at local nurseries or garden centers. You can try all kinds of different veggies, herbs etc. It is also less expensive to grow your own vegetables and herbs from seed than to buy already established plants. Finally, you have more control because you don't have to wait until all chance of frost has passed and for the ground to warm up sufficiently and you don't have to worry about any seeds rotting in cool, damp soil. Of course, there are some reasons not to start from seed and just buy the plants its less times consuming and getting the young plants already established from garden centers even though you're paying a much higher cost is just plain easier. Be bold and try it yourself, it is a great satisfaction to know you started ahead of time and a great winter project!!
THINGS YOU WILL NEED: Here is the list of things you will need; you don't need to buy anything fancy or costly.
1. - Potting mix that is light and airy with a loose texture. Purchasing a germinating mix specifically to aid in seed germination is also a good idea. Just make sure that whatever you purchase is a good blend. Seeds don't like a heavy soil.
2. - A south facing or sunny window.
3. - Sticks or small garden markers popsicle sticks are perfect and cheap.
4. - Waterproof pen or pencil
5. - Clear plastic wrap or bags.
6. - Fertilizer soluble like 15.15.15.
7. - Containers that are approx. 2-3 inches wide and 2-3 inches deep. We use plastic trays, but you can also use peat pots, cut off milk or juice cartons (make sure you wash them out) or even something like Dixie cups or small pots. Just make sure that whatever container you choose it has holes or you can make holes in it for drainage.
NOTE: whatever container you choose, according to our tried-and-true methods, you will not have to transplant into larger containers but directly to your garden. We do not do transplanting such as this because by keeping them in their starter containers the plants root balls stay compact and intact which allows for healthier, sturdier plants, plus crops that grow on vines don't like their roots disturbed. Just make sure that the growing container you choose is not too small. Also, if using trays, you can grow your whole garden in that tray. You don't need a separate tray for each species. A tray with a maximum of 30 individual cells is perfect.
LET'S GET STARTED - First, your seedlings are going to be inside 6-10 weeks or approx. 2 months before your final frost date so that's when you will begin your seed indoors. Our average final date of frost is usually between Mother's Day and Memorial Day weekend, so we start our seed indoors at the end of March. It's not an exact science so just adjust if you need to and if you have your plants indoors a bit longer than expected, don't worry, you'll just have bigger and heartier plants when the time comes to move them outside.
Planting Steps: - Fill your containers with the potting mix you purchased and make sure it is pre-moistened. To do this, put your soil in a larger container and wet it through not soggy, just moist. - Level out the soil in the containers, using your hand is just fine. - Sow your seed into the mix. If using a tray 1-2 seeds per unit are enough. If using bigger pots or containers, then use 3-4 seeds. If sown too thickly you can always thin out one or two, but you don't want to have too many and we don't like to transplant, so better to start out on the lower side. - Press the seeds for a good seed to soil contact and then sprinkle a bit more soil on top, just enough to cover the seeds. Usually, seeds should be planted 4 times their diameter. Just read the seed packet for each species you are planting for specific depth. - Use your sticks and a waterproof pen and note the variety of each vegetable or herb you have planted and the date you planted and stick it in the unit. It's good to do this when you are growing multiple varieties so you can remember what you planted for when you move them outside. - Place the planted container inside a plastic bag and close it or if using a tray cover with the plastic wrap making sure that the plastic does not hit the soil surface. You won't water again until germination/sprouts occur. Note: Make sure that you don't put your new plantings in cool or drafty areas or even one that is too warm like directly on the window sill. You don't put anything on the windowsill until your new seeding has germinated and sprouted. While waiting for germination you want a nice, evenly warm spot. Placing in direct sun is too dehydrating or can cause too much moisture which make the seeds rot. We like to put ours on top of the refrigerator, table or other large surface. - As soon as your seeds sprout or have broken through the surface, remove the plastic bags or wrap. - Seedlings usually appear within 10 -14 days. If, by chance, they do not, don't fret. Sometimes a few varieties can take up to 3 weeks. This happens with too much moisture, cold or drafts. If they don't appear at all, just remove the dirt, put in new and start again and make sure you improve the planting conditions. Gardening is not an exact science and sometimes trial and error is needed. - Once your new seedlings have sprouted, they will now need full sun. You can move them to the windowsill or if you don't have a sunny window to put them by you will have to have the proper lighting equipment. - Make sure that wherever you put them there are not great temperature fluctuations and if there are, just move them back from the windows at night.
CARING FOR YOUR NEW SEEDLINGS: - Start watering your new plants. Check daily to judge how fast your plantings dry out. You can check this by putting your finger in the soil to check for moisture. Water with room temperature water so you don't shock the new seedlings. - Make sure you don't over water and wash away your seeds. You can water from the bottom by filling the drain saucers and letting the water soak its way to the surface of your plantings. Once the top is moist, remove the water at the bottom. You can also water by using a spray bottle and misting them with a fine spray. Make sure if using this method you get the soil too! - 3-4 weeks after your plants are established you can add some completely soluble fertilizer to the water. Only fertilize once or twice before moving them outside to your garden. You don't want fast growth, just a bit of food to keep them healthy. - Once your seedlings have been indoors for 6-8 weeks you will want to start getting them acclimated to the outdoors. You can do this by putting them outside for 2-3 hours on a sunny day in full sun and then bring them back inside. Repeat this process once during the same day. Do this for a week or so and then start leaving them outside all day and night providing that it doesn't freeze.
PLANTING IN THE GARDEN: Once it's time to plant outside in your garden take a few steps to ensure success. - Transplant in the late afternoon or when the sun is low. This keeps them from drying out. - Make sure they are watered sufficiently before you plant. - Make sure the soil you are planting them in is moist as well. - Plant the top of the root ball evenly with the top of your hole. - Don't disturb the root ball or try to as little as possible. - Water them well after you have planted to make sure the soil settles properly. - Keep them well watered the first couple of days to make sure they establish properly, after that treat them like any other plants. There is nothing very complicated about doing this and you will have success. It's cheap, gratifying and well worth the wait when those delicious homegrown veggies and herbs are ready to harvest. Eat, Enjoy and Be Healthy!