When the ground is still too cold to start planting (most things), take a little time and start some seeds! Gather some kids (preferably ones you know) and teach them about how a plant starts! It’s fun, easy, and cost effective over buying started plants.
Some seeds need to be started indoors instead of sowing directly into the garden. To determine if your seeds need to be started, you can read the back of your seed packet. Here is a graphic to help determine when to start sowing seeds indoors (zone 5). See www.veggieharvest.com for other zones.
Tomatoes, peppers, cabbage family, broccoli, cauliflower, squash (although I always direct sow squash and never have an issue), cucumbers (again, I direct sow with no issue), onion seed (not sets), some flowers/herbs, and melons all should be started.
Of course you can just purchase plants and not worry about starting them yourself but if you want to, it is quite simple and fun to watch them grow!
You will need a container to start your seed in. There are many options for this, here are a few examples:
- A commercial seed starting container. I re-use ones from flowers/vegetables that I had purchased before.
- Small yogurt or similar type container
- Egg cartons
- Empty, cleaned out egg shells (just the top removed)
- Milk cartons
You can choose to start with a small container to germinate the seeds and then move the seedling to a larger container once it is about 2 inches tall. Make sure that there are a couple holes in the bottom of whatever container you choose, so the water can drain properly.
I recommend using a commercial seed starting soil for starting your seeds. You wont have to worry about bugs, weeds, or possible disease that may be in your garden soil. Plus, commercial seed starter is very light and does not get dense, allowing the seeds to germinate easier. Many are also formulated to hold the correct amount of water (as long as drainage is available) so the seeds/plants do not drown or dry out too quickly. Commercial starter is fairly inexpensive and definitely worth the purchase. If you are in a pinch, you can use garden soil, just sanitize it by baking in the oven at 170°F-180°F for about 2 hours.
This is a very essential part of starting seeds. They need to have light/warmth to germinate. Place your planted seeds in a sunny window of your home, under fluorescent light, or in a greenhouse. Many commercial seed starting kits have a clear dome that go over the tray to trap in the moisture and help with the heat (works like a mini-greenhouse). They work great! You can also use clear plastic wrap as well, just gently place over the container (not directly on soil) and remove once plant is touching.
It is important to keep the soil moist but also not have too much water. If there is any standing water in your container, that is too much. If the soil is moist to the touch, it is perfect. Check them everyday to make sure they do not dry out. Keeping them in a greenhouse or under a dome/clear wrap cover helps keep them moist as well.
Steps to start your seeds
- Gather materials. Container(s), soil, seeds, water, tray, popsicle sticks or anything to label plants.
- Place containers on a tray (plate, pie pan, commercial seed tray, etc) this prevents water from going everywhere when it drains out the bottom of your container.
- Fill containers with soil, almost to top. Water the soil.
- Plant seeds. Sow according to directions on packet. Make sure to not plant them too deep.
- Lightly water. A spray bottle works nice for this, it helps to prevent seeds from moving around by heavy watering.
- Label (if planting more than one kind of seed). I recommend labeling each container. Especially when planting different varieties of the same kind of plant!
- Cover with plastic wrap or dome (if applicable) and place in warm sunny spot.
Not all seeds germinate in the same amount of time. Your seed packet will give you information on your specific seeds. Once seedlings have sprouted, you can start removing the dome cover or plastic wrap if you used it. When seedlings are about 2 inches high (or have developed a couple sets of true leaves), transplant to a larger container if you used a small one to start with.
Be sure to “harden off” seedlings before planting in the garden. This is essentially just getting the plants acclimated to the outdoors. A couple weeks before you will be planting, start setting them outside for a few hours each day, slowly increasing the length of time they are outside until they are out 24/7.
Be sure to check out my other Gardening Posts: