Mark here again, I hope you are doing well. Today I’d like to talk to you about the next step, Starting seed for your vegetable garden.
If you haven’t read the other two posts I encourage you to go back and read them. You can start by going here How to start a Vegetable Garden Pt. 1 it will show you how to do a Vegetable garden Layout and some other basic things. Now on to starting seed! Last time we talked about using Heirloom Vegetables in the garden. I’m going to move forward with that in mind. As I said before, gardening from seeds is not difficult so let’s get started.
You will need to gather some supplies in order to start this project. A table or a shelf placed in a relatively warm part of your home. Preferably in front of a south facing window. A flourescent light hanging above the table or mounted in a shelf with chains will also be of great benefit for starting seed. See the seed starting supplies list below.
Supplies for starting seed indoors:
- Seed starting mix.
- Seed starting trays, plastic cups, Peat pots, or any recycled container will work.
- Some type of tray or sheet pan to put under your containers.
- Adjustable spray bottle
- Small fan (optional) A little breeze over the plants helps them grow thick strong stems.
- Permanent marker
- popsicle sticks
Ok before we get into this there are some plants you just should not start indoors. There are several reasons why not to. Before I go into detail I need confess that I’ve been known to throw some beans or sunflower seeds into a pot of soil just to get some green to look at while the snow is still flying. I’d also like to tell you a little story, then I promise to tell you about how to get your plants growing.
Last year my son brought home two sunflowers in Styrofoam cups from a school project. He told me he wanted to plant them outside. When it was time to plant everything else out there in the big garden he said. These things were about 8″ tall as thin as pencil lead, and half fallen over. There was still snow on the ground and I thought I was doomed. We nursed them along as best we could, I very carefully transplanted them one day into larger containers. We kept them watered, they got taller. One day I noticed the were not doing very good. As my Son put it they were lying there in a lump. It was still a bit too cold outside, I remember my boy being upset he thought they were dead. I couldn’t let him down, my last attempt at keeping them alive was to go ahead and plant them outside. after a few days I took him out to the garden to show him they were still alive. I remember him saying he didn’t think they would make it. A week later they had grown about a foot. I showed them to my Son again. He perked right up and said wow those things are growing! They ended up being about seven foot tall by the end of the season. He watched them grow all summer. It was well worth all the effort to see him that excited about gardening.
Now here’s the deal with sun flowers. They grow fast! They get big! Plant them outside as soon as the ground can be worked and they will grow. I’ve seen Russian Mammoth sun flowers
take light frost in the spring time and not have any problems. Seeds fallen from flowers the year before will sprout right up three or four days after you till. Plant them in pots, transplant them outdoors when they are ready if you want. But you shouldn’t plant them inside and try to grow them under the lights when you can’t transplant a week or so later. In a matter of days they will be too tall, and without wind the stems will be thin and weak. Here is a list of other plants with reasons to plant directly in the garden.
Plants to start out in the Garden:
- Sun Flower, Grows fast.
- Squash/Pumpkin, does not transplant well unless very small.
- Corn, Grows fast and does not transplant well.
- Beans, Grow fast and do not transplant well.
- Melons of any kind don’t transplant well if they become too large. A better plan would be to use soil warming methods to accelerate their growth.
- Peas, these grow well in cooler spring weather.
- Beets, carrots, Parsnips, turnips, Potatoes, and most other root crops do better planted directly in the soil outside.
Starting seed of the plants in the next list all need a good head start. Once the weather warms up and you have hardened them off, all of your Heirloom Plants will do well outside.
Plants to start inside:
- Egg plant
- Onions and leeks, these get planted very early on.
- Celery, this one also takes a long time to grow.
- Melons and squash can be transplanted while still small. Caution: They have very sensitive roots.
One last item before we get started on the how to. It will be helpful to purchase a Scheduling Wheel Chart, Or search for an online date wheel. I find it much easier to have one in my hand. I keep it with my seeds when I’m not using it. This tool is simply for figuring out when to start your plants. Again we must refer to the seed packet. It will say something like start seeds 3 weeks before last frost or something very similar to that. you just look up online you average last frost date for your area. Pull out your trusty date wheel. Set it on that date, and count back three weeks. It will tell you that date you need to plant the seed. Very simple to use. Ok finally we will move on to starting seed!
- If you have decided to use plastic cups or any plastic recycled containers you will need to poke a few holes into the bottom. Drainage is important for good plant growth. If you are using the seed starting trays for starting seed. You will notice they already have them.
- It helps if you take the seed starting mix and pre moisten it with water. I usually do this in a bucket, be careful not to over moisten. Mix in a little water, you will notice how it wont want to get wet. After thoroughly mixing it with your hands or mixing utensil. Let it sit for an hour or so, check to see if you need to add more water or if you think its is moist enough.
- Next fill each of the cups within a 1/2″ or so from the top with seed starting mix. If you are using seed trays you can fill the whole tray right to the top and level any additional seed starting mix off.
- Now get one of your seed packets out. Read the back to make sure of the depth you need to plant the seed. Tear off a corner of the seed packet get several seeds into your hand.
- If you are using cups it’s a good idea to plant three to four seeds per cup, and at least two per cell in the seed trays. This will insure that something comes up in each cup or cell. Don’t forget to write on each cup what you planted in it, or mark your row of cells in the seed starting tray with popsicle sticks. Do this for each type of plant you will be growing.
- Place your cups into the sheet pan, or any kind of container with a short lip on it that will hold water. Make sure your seed starting trays come with a bottom that holds water, most do. Some come with domes too but I don’t think these are necessary.
- Ok it is critically important to keep the soil moist. When you get up in the morning spray the top of the soil. Do this again in the evening or whenever you notice the surface of the soil is dry. But minimally twice a day. You must be consistent about this. After the seeds sprout and become established you can start watering from the bottom. Just pour some water into the tray and you will be watering all the cups at the same time. not to much though you don’t want to over do it. As they get bigger more water will be required.
- After the seedlings reach about three inches tall you will need to decide what plant in that cup or cell is the strongest. Using a pair of scissors cut the other seedlings off about 1/4″ above the soil or pinch them off with your finger nails. Be careful not to injure the one you want to keep. You do not want to pull the ones you are culling out, this could damage the strong plants roots.
- Now I suggest using cups right from the start because at some point if you are growing in a seed tray with small cells “lets say a Tomato plant” it’s roots are going to fill out the cell. If you don’t transplant it into a larger container like a plastic cup it will become root bound this will stunt the further growth of the plant. So I just start right out in the larger cups. By the time they are in danger of becoming root bound, it’s time to plant them outside anyway.
- How to harden off your plants. About a week before it’s time to transplant out in the garden you have to harden your plants off. You will want to put your plants outside for a few hours a day. This allows them to get real wind, deal with temperature fluctuations, and receive full sun light. towards the end of the week you will want to leave them out longer, and longer until you decide to leave them out over night. Pay attention to the weather, make sure there is no frost in the forecast. You don’t want to lose them now!
- After the danger of frost has passed you can put your babies out in the garden. make sure you stick to your spacing you came up with in your vegetable garden layout. Give your extra plants away to friends and family, encourage them to read this post too!
I hope you found this to be helpful, and now that you know all about planting seeds indoors and also what to plant outside when the time is right. You are armed with the knowledge needed to go out there and have a wonderful time growing your own food! When you start having successes with your vegetable gardening, and heirloom crops you’ll be hooked for life. There’s nothing else like it! So Have fun!
Thank you, and don’t forget to sign up for the PermacultureFlora updates and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.