When should you be starting seeds?
Having a hard time waiting for things to warm up so you can get out in the garden? Are you scouring seed catalogs and gardening books? If you live in an area where winter doesn’t release its chilly grip until late May or even June, starting seeds indoors right now will get you a leg up on your vegetable garden and help provide you with a bounty of homegrown produce by mid-summer.
With years of experience and a master gardener license to boot, I am here today to share some essential tips for getting your seeds going indoors this year!
Starting seeds indoors – when to do it
Starting seeds indoors depends on the last frost date for each species. Do a quick search online to find the last frost date for your area based on your zip code.
Ensure you have a plan for what you want to plant and where it will go after you transplant it outside. You can then plan to start seeds indoors.
Over my many years of gardening, I’ve found that some people make this whole seed starting process much harder than it needs to be! I have NEVER purchased special grow lights, heating pads, or shelving to start my seeds. I’m a small-time gardener, however! If you’re planning a full-scale farming operation, then my tips and instructions in this blog post are not really intended for you (I’d suggest you instead enroll in a farming program or at the very least find some information online that pertains to starting a small scale farm!)
For those of you interested in a backyard garden, read on!
Start seeds indoors in a container large enough to hold the seedlings you’ll transplant into the garden later. The Jiffy brand seed starter kits have everything you need to start seeds, and I suggest purchasing a couple of these at Home Depot. These kits make it easy to start seeds indoors next to a sunny south or western-facing window! Just plant your seeds in the seed starting soil that comes in the trays, water well, cover with the plastic lid (this creates a friendly humid, greenhouse type of environment for the seeds to germinate), and place near a sunny window. When the seeds start sprouting, remove the plastic cover and make sure the container is in an area that will receive plenty of sunlight. You can also use a plant lamp if you live in a basement or other location that gets very little natural light.
Many gardeners wonder how deep to sow seeds. Seed packs usually indicate how deep to plant each variety of seeds on the back. Some seeds need light to germinate, but most don’t. Moisture and warmth are more important.
Give your plants a sprinkling of cinnamon
After seedlings sprout, you will notice that they develop a bit of a film. This is a fungal infection common to most young seedlings. It can be avoided with a sprinkling of the kitchen spice, cinnamon! Just sprinkle a thin layer of cinnamon over the soil in each tray after planting your seeds. It’s beneficial in preventing the fungus and can also ward off other plant diseases.
The hardening off process
It is best to gradually expose the seedlings to the outdoors as soon as possible (weather permitting). This is known as hardening off.
When young plants are increasingly exposed to sunlight and outside weather, they will become accustomed to the growing conditions of the garden and will be more robust, more durable, and more productive once they are finally planted outside.
As soon as the daytime temperatures are above freezing, place the seedlings outside for an hour the first day (a cloudy day is ideal at first), two hours the next day, and so on, building up to a full day. Bring them back indoors before nightfall. As soon as the nighttime temperature rises above 35 to 40 degrees F, you can leave the plants outside all night.
Direct sowing has its place
The seeds of some plants germinate and grow so quickly that there is no need to start them indoors early. Some examples of veggie seeds I direct sow are corn and green beans.
Even when started inside, other seedlings languish outside until soil temperatures reach a certain level. This is typically the case with plants like squash and cucumbers – it is better to sow these seeds directly outdoors in the garden as well.
You’ve got the tools, now get out there and get to starting seeds!