It all starts with a seed. Food fuel and flourishing flowers for the garden.
It's time to think about which plants you'll start from seed indoors and which seeds you'll sow directly in the garden.
The advantage of starting seeds indoors is that you get a head start on the season.
I love seeds. One pack of seeds can produce hundreds of plants costing me much less than a four-pack from the local nursery.
You also have more choice and greater variety when using seeds since you're not limited to what can be found at the local garden center.
It's wonderful to control your food supply from start to finish, the only way you can be 100% sure your produce is safe and organic. Coronavirus veggies? Not here!
Starting seed indoors extends my gardening season.
Seed also lets me experiment with varieties that require longer growing times than what a Western New York growing season allows.
And if they don't germinate, seeds are inexpensive.
Want to save some serious cash by planting a few seeds with me this year? In case you were wondering, 2020 is the year of the veggie garden! The hottest trend imaginable.
Homemade seed tape fast fact!
How-to buy seeds
- Species and/or variety name
- Mature height
- Packing date (Never buy seeds packed more than a year ago.)
- Make sure the seeds haven't expired, plenty have on store selves so inspect.)
- Special planting instructions. Consider if you'll have room for the full-sized plant.
- Germination rate (should be over 65% at least.)
- Look for open pollination and hand-picked
- Untreated seed
- Organic and Non-GMO verified
When to plant
You typically start seeds 4-8 weeks before the last frost. Your average last frost date is considered the first day of the year when there is less than a 50% chance a frost will occur.
If you don't know your last frost date, I'd call the local garden center or the local county Cooperative Extension Service Office and ask. You could also find various websites online to consult.
But start seeds too early and you'll get weak, tall and spindly seedlings; some of which are less likely to survive transplant.
Start too late and and your little plants may not be big enough to transplant when the time comes.
So keep track of when you started each type of seed indoors, and write down how each of them did. It's not a perfect science.
You have to experiment with the seed starting process and it may take a few years to come up with a working schedule.
Even so, if I'm a bit too early or a bit late, many of the small plants grow fine.
With vegetables, you have to be extra careful because you want to make sure you give the plants enough time to grow before harvest.
Nothing worse than a massive frost killing your plants just before harvest resulting in zero produce.
With flowers, I'm willing to take more of a risk and plant later hoping for the best!
It's also helpful to know your average first fall frost date so you can determine the number of days in your growing season. This date will also help you plan your summer and fall sowings for crop succession.
The soaking process gives the seeds a big boost that affect their ability to germinate, grow and produce over the long haul.
Optimal seed conditions
- Light. Your seedlings like 12-15 hours of light a day. Grow lights are really nice to have, but pricey. You could also use a shop light with cool white or a mix of cool and warm white fluorescent bulbs placed 1-2 inches above the seedlings. I find that my house is very sunny, especially in March/April and I'll make do with a sunny window.
- If it's warm enough where you live, expose your seeds to a bit of outdoor light. But short intervals at first in a shady spot under a tree. Dappled sunlight only, never direct sun. Direct sun will fry the plants!
- Gradually increase the seeds outdoor exposure to light and sun over the course of a week or several weeks.
- Water. Seedlings require consistently moist soil. Moisture triggers the germination process and softens the hard outer covering of the seed so the sprout can emerge.
- If you plan on using a seed starter kit they tend to dry out quickly. Waterlogged soil is just as bad as dry soil. It causes the plants to rot while encouraging pests. So check moisture levels regularly.
- To avoid overwatering, mist using a spray bottle.
- It's always better to water from the bottom up and this rule applies to your full-size plants as well. Make sure the container has drainage holes even if you have to poke them in. Drainage trays are a fantastic way to keep the growing medium moist without disturbing the young seedlings.
- Heat. Providing bottom heat to your seedlings promotes germination. You can buy a heating mat or:
- 1.) Prop up your plants against a heat vent if you have forced air or even a radiator.
- 2.) You can use a space heater to keep those seedlings warm. But keep a sharp eye on the moisture level of your little plants. Any heat you use will quickly dry the seedlings out.
- Ventilation. Once you've noticed that most of your seeds have popped up in the flat it's time to begin ventilating them. Air circulation around seedlings can help prevent disease problems while strengthening seedlings.
- Prop the lid off the tray just a hair so that the seedlings can acclimate to the room.
- Continue to prop open the lid an inch each day until you're ready to take the lid off completely. You can even use an oscillating fan on low to spur on ventilation. Just don't aim the fan directly at the soil which will cause rapid dryness. Point the fan toward the wall or place the fan above the soil.
Plants that require a long growing season to reach maturity.
Easiest Edible Seeds To Grow Indoors
Easiest Flower Seeds To Grow Indoors (Transplant well)
Why start veggies & flowers indoors?
Many varieties need warm soil temperature to germinate so if you don't start them inside, you may have to wait to sow outdoors until 2 to 4 weeks after your last average frost.
Who wants to wait that long? Not me. Not you!
Free mini greenhouse options
- Rotisserie chicken cases ~ Love that "greenhouse" dome-top.
- Take out salad containers from McDonald's ~ it comes with that clear lid.
- Olive Garden takeout containers make perfect little seed starter greenhouses ~ clear lid and all.
I planted in my rotisserie "greenhouse" and plan to break up the tiny plants when the time comes using a butter knife and my fingers to gently pull apart the roots. I may have to thin the seeds, too!
Clear domes help me see progress without disturbing the seeds and increases humidity to aid germination. You can also use plastic wrap for this exact same purpose.
It's also essential to poke holes in the bottom of your makeshift "greenhouses" for drainage purposes. You don't want your seeds to get waterlogged or to mold, either!
In fact, any container with drainage holes poked in the bottom can be used including yogurt cups, egg cartons, empty jello and pudding containers. Just use that plastic wrap.
And keep in mind that any time you reuse a container, it needs to be cleaned and sanitized prior to adding your soil and seed.
Hardening off isn't all that hard!
It is a 7 to 14 day transition period that helps the tender seedlings adjust to outdoor conditions, including exposure to direct sunlight, wind, and changes in temperature.
Take it slow on day 1 leaving your tiny plants outdoors for only 1 - 2 hours then bring them back indoors.
Each day, leave them outdoors longer, and gradually move them into more exposed areas. Make sure to frequently check the soil moisture, they dry out quick!
How long do seeds last?
Keep your seeds away from heaters, vents and sunny windows. Also, don't store in a damp basement, bathroom closet, etc.
Many seeds that don't store great after the second year come from the onion family, including leeks, chives and shallot seeds, parsnips, possibly peppers and lettuce.
Sow plenty of extra seed to compensate for relatively low germination. (Only if seeds are old). So plop a few extra seeds into your planting hole and cross your fingers!
But be aware that if more seed germinate than you had expected, you may have to thin the seeds. Seed thinning sob story here!
In my experience, most garden seed will keep longer than just one year. In particular if stored in a mylar bag!
Many types are worth planting even after 2-3 years of storage.
Squash, beans and tomatoes can give surprisingly good results even at 5 years.
Just remember, germination drops off gradually with most types, so as seed ages, plant more seed to account for reduced germination rates.
Quick labeling tip:
You can also buy wooden craft sticks for the exact same purpose. Sometimes, writing directly on the container is a quick and easy labelling technique!
A quick note on soil
Bacteria and fungi in the soil, water and even air can deter even the best seeds from germinating property.
This is why it's so important to use fresh seed-starting mix from the get-go.
A quality seed-starting mix fresh from the bag is formulated to discourage common pathogens that cause seedlings to rot and mold.
Even adding a bit of vermicompost (worm poop!) can be beneficial in your seed-starting mix. But don't use more than 10 percent by volume.
I like adding perlite to the bottom of the pots to increase drainage.
What you never want to do is head to the backyard with a shovel and use soil from your yard in your flower pots or seed pots. This soil will introduce weeds, diseases and insects to your new seeds. Big no-no!
In fact, I wouldn't even use the same seed starting mix that I grew my seedlings in the year prior, even if the pots were still in tack. Toss it all in the compost bin and start afresh, please!
Even using potting mix is a bad idea as it's just too heavy for the tiny seeds.
Remember: the fewer obstacles your seeds face, the better they can grow!
Last thoughts...Should I start my seeds indoors or outdoors?
Large-seeded crops such as beans, corn, and squash germinate quickly when sown directly into warm soil, often within days of planting.
Root crops such as carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes should always be sown where they are going to grow so their roots develop undisturbed!