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The first few years I started my vegetable plants from seeds were a disaster. I anxiously awaited Spring and had such bad cabin fever, I would always start my tomato plants in February! They would also sprout up fast, but fall over before I could transplant them outside. If I did manage to wait, I would plant them and they would immediately die.
Every year I would start from seed and then kill them off somehow, only to be forced to buy seedlings from the local hardware store! It became a running joke in my family.
Luckily, over the years, I’ve learned valuable lessons (insert something wise about a right time for everything) and now have great success starting from seed.
Starting from seed is not only incredibly rewarding, but much more economical and environmentally friendly than buying from a hardware store. You can control the types of seeds you plant, the quality of soil, and ensure they the plants and soil they grow in are all organic and pesticide free.
BONUS: if you harvest your own seeds to start next year, you are essentially giving yourself free, organic, locally sourced plants for next year!
Here are my tips for seed-starting success:
Preparation For Starting Seeds
- Do your research! Figure out what plants you want in your garden, and when to start them indoors. Some plants, such as lettuces, do much better direct-sowed instead of started and replanted. You can also plan out a succession plan for your vegetable garden. Start cold-weather plants (kale, lettuce, cabbage) sooner and summer plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon) for transplanting once the cold-weather plants are done.
- Source your seeds. There are tons of only resources available for organic, non-GMO seeds. I’ve had great luck with Seeds For Generations, but experiment and try out different options. Also – hook up with your local gardening club and see if they do a seed exchange.
- Pick your containers. The easiest solution is to buy seed trays from a hardware store with a drip tray and clear cover and fill it with whatever soil you choose. However, there are more economic and creative options as well. Try egg cartons with holes poked in the bottom, or egg shells themselves, or K-cups, solo cups, or you can make little pots out of newspaper.
- Pick your soil. For starting seeds, you will want a soil that is loosely packed, with tons of breathing room for the little seed to spread roots. Plants won’t be able to produce their own food until they have grown leaves, so will rely on absorbing nutrients from the soil. If making your own seed-starting soil, mix together peat moss, compost and vermiculite. The vermiculite will ensure the seeds have enough growing and breathing room.
- Label your containers! I’ve done this far too many times. I’ll get caught up in the seed planting process, or get my hands dirty and forget to label the different pots. I’ve had to plant certain plants and wait to find out what they were when they matured! It’s much easier to label now, than guess later.
How to Start Seeds
- Fill your containers halfway with your soil mixture.
- Add your seeds.
- Cover with another thin layer of soil.
- Place container in a warm spot near a window. Seeds sprout the best when the room temperature is between 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C). The seedlings will begin growing toward the sun, so you’ll want to rotate the container every day or so.
- Water regularly. You don’t want to over-water, which will encourage fungus which will kill the vulnerable seeds, but under-watering will starve the seeds of what they need. (For more on what plants need, check out my post here.)
- Cover your container with clear plastic, or the tray provided. This will keep the soil moist and warm, without suffocating the plants. Once your seedlings are a few inches tall, remove this plastic so air can circulate.
- Harden your seedlings off by moving them outside for at least a week before transplanting. Once the last chance of frost has passed, leave your seedlings outside during the day so they get used to the wind and changes in temperature. I take them out during the day and bring them in at night for about a week, and then leave them out day and night for a week before transplanting.
- Pick the spot for your seedlings in your garden and transplant! Keys to successfully transplanting seedlings are to compact the soil around the roots to prevent any oxygen getting to them, and watering them more than you think you should for the first few days.
These tips and tricks have provided me years of a successful vegetable garden and no more running to the hardware store for hot-house grown plants! Comment below on your experiences (good and bad!) starting seeds indoors.