Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors
Starting vegetable seeds indoors is the least expensive way to grow your own vegetables and it can also be tremendously fun and satisfying.
The best gardens start with a plan. Measure your garden space. If the soil is still workable in the fall, it's a good time to prepare your garden spot, adding manure, adjusting the pH if necessary, cleaning out weeds and grasswhatever can be done in advance to prepare for the growing season. Once you know how big your garden will be, decide where you will be planting what, which also means you'll have a good idea of how many plants will be needed to fill your garden space. Lay out the rows on paper. Keep in mind the height of your growing garden and the surrounding trees and shrubs when planning for the amount of sunlight your veggies will need. Our article, How Much Sunlight Do Growing Vegetables Need? can help.
Once you've got a general plan of the layout of your garden, you can order your vegetable seeds. All of ours are certified organic vegetable seeds, with the quality and freshness unsurpassed. We provide all of the information necessary to start your vegetable seeds; some can be either direct-planted in the ground or started indoors, while others should be started indoors weeks prior to your estimated transplant date in order to ensure their survival. It is also true that gardeners living in areas with shorter growing seasons will benefit greatly from starting vegetable seeds indoors and even those with longer growing seasons can get a head start by transplanting seedlings as opposed to waiting until soil temperatures are warm enough to sow vegetable seeds directly into the garden.
Determine the average last spring frost date for your area. Then, check the germination time for each of your seeds and count backwards from the last spring frost date for those vegetables that can go in the ground the earliest, like lettuces, cabbage, peas (all those veggies that enjoy the cooler weather). Allow another 3 to 4 weeks for your seedlings to be growing strong and to establish a healthy root system. For those vegetables that like it warmer, like tomatoes, peppers and melons, you can start those seeds after your â€˜cool weather' veggies have started to sprout.
Now you're ready to start. Have all of your supplies within reach. You'll need:
- Seeds. Ensure your seeds, regardless of where you got them, are fresh and have been stored properly during the off-season. Check to make sure they are dry and mold-free.
- Seeding trays. You can use the commercial versions or repurpose things like egg cartons or yogurt cups, as long as they have bottom drainage. You can buy pre-filled seeding trays, already filled with planting medium, or you can refill previously purchased seeding trays with Jiffy Peat Pellets specifically designed for seed starting and ease of transplanting.
- Seed-starting mix. Some gardeners will make their own, using perlite, vermiculite, peat etc., or you can purchase a seed starting soil mix formulated with the nutrients essential to successful seed germination.
- Seed markers. Popsicle sticks will suffice, as will scotch tape, masking tape or simply writing on top of the plastic cover on your seeding trays. If you're using individual repurposed cups, you can write right on the side of them. It's a good idea to keep track of the variety of the vegetable and the date you sowed the seed, to monitor the germination progress and then to be able to identify them once you've transplanted them into the garden. All seedlings can look alike, especially to a novice, and you want to make sure to leave adequate room for each variety to grow.
- Water. Never use water right out of the tap, unless it is warm water. We recommend you let containers of water sit open for a day or two to become room temperature, preferably in the same room (or even the same window) where your seeds will be germinating. This will also allow residential, treated water to breathe, so any chemicals, such as fluoride and chlorine, can dissipate.
- Space. Plan ahead for where you will be putting your seedlings. They will do best if left undisturbed until they have sprouted and the seed leaves have made their appearance.
- Heat. Seeds prefer warm soil, though each vegetable you plant may have a different soil temperature requirement for optimal germination. The easiest way to ensure the exact soil temperature is to put your seedling trays or pots onto a heated seedling mat. We have them available in the 1-tray size or large enough to heat 4 trays at one time. You can also use an artificial or natural light source to provide somewhat consistent heat. The plastic dome on the miniature greenhouses will also help to maintain soil temperature, as will watering your seeds/seedlings with warm or room-temperature water.
- Follow the instructions for soaking the peat pellets or ensure your pots or containers of soil mixture are well moistened with room-temperature or warm water. Remember to poke drainage holes in the bottom of your repurposed seeding pots.
- Sow 2 to 4 seeds per seeding tray cell or pot, making an indentation in the planting medium 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch deep, gently covering with the displaced soil once in place.
- Cover your seedling trays or repurposed seedling pots with plastic to maintain moisture and temperature levels. If repurposing seeding containers, leave 2 to 3 inches from the top of the container to allow for seedling growth when covered. If you need to water, mist gently or water from the bottom, being careful not to displace the seeds. They are very vulnerable at this point and all movement of the seed should be avoided as they develop roots.
- Watch the magic happen!
- Once the seed leaves (cotyledons) appear, you will want to cant or vent the plastic covering the seed trays or pots. Air circulation is necessary at this point in their development; however, leaving the plastic partially in place will help to maintain consistent moisturealso important. You can also take them off the heat mat or gradually reduce the temperature if yours is thermostatically controlled. It is important for the seedlings to not get too hot at this point. Check them throughout the day. Any sign of wilting is a sign of trouble and should be addressed immediately. This may mean moving them out of direct sunlight or limiting the amount of time they are under a grow light. Be sure to check the moisture just below the surface of the soil.
- About the same time the first true leaves (the second set of leaves) appears, your seedlings may be tall enough to touch the plastic cover. When that happens, remove the plastic completely. The cotyledon may be yellowing and dropping off at this point. Don't panic unless the true leaves start to yellow, which means they are probably being kept too wet or not getting enough light.
- You can thin your plants now, leaving the strongest one or two in the pot and discarding the weaklings. If you leave two, depending on the size of the pot you've got them in, you can let both grow to transplant time or thin again to only one, always saving the strongest seedling.
- When you're about 2 weeks from transplanting, start to harden off your seedlings, which simply means acclimating them to the outdoors. Start by putting them in a partially shaded and sheltered spot for half a day, extending the period of time, gradually moving them into a sunnier and less protected spot and then out next to the vegetable garden until they are spending all day and night out on their own with no signs of stress. Once they appear to be thriving, you can transplant them into the garden! Pay attention to weather reports and adjust this schedule as necessary.
- Be careful to avoid disturbing the roots, and transplant according to the recommendations for the type of vegetable.
- Monitor their moisture, watch for pests and/or disease, and weed regularly to ensure their continued good health.
That's it! Yes, it seems like a lot of information, but once you've done it a time or two, you're on your way to becoming an expert. Remember, no one knows everything, and you are very likely to learn at least one new thing each year.