Sweet Pea’s Side Dish: Starting a Vegetable Garden From Seeds
With Spring just a few weeks away, now is a great time to start planning your summer vegetable garden from seed. Growing your own vegetables is less expensive than buying from a grocery store, especially if you start from seed. Although starting your garden from seed requires a little more time and effort than purchasing plants at your local home and garden center, you get a much higher yield for a fraction of the price.
If you’ve never started plants from seeds before, it’s always a good idea to not take on too many at one time. Start with a dozen of three or four different varieties while you learn how it all works. When planning your summer vegetable garden it’s important to think about what grows well in your region, space limitations, what you would like to eat from your garden and how many of one plant you actually need.
Starting seeds is not complicated or difficult, if you understand the process. Listed below are the ingredients to growing your plants from seeds:
Choosing the Correct Growing Medium: Seedlings are very fragile. For the best chance of success, start them in a fresh seed-starting mix. I have had great success using these Seed Starter Greenhouse Kits. They are relatively inexpensive and come with a bottom watering tray, seed tray and germination cover. Once the seedlings start to sprout, I transplant them to larger containers.
Labeling: Be sure to label each container with the plant name and date sown (I like to use popsicle sticks). Nothing is more frustrating than not remembering what you planted.
Water: After sowing the seeds in the greenhouse kits, place the germination cover over the containers to hold in humidity while the seeds germinate. Once the seeds sprout, remove the germination cover and water them from the bottom, by pouring water into the tray. Watering from the top may dislodge or damage the sprouts.
Warmth: After I plant the seeds, I place them on a table near our sunny south facing windows with the germination cover over them. This allows the plants to receive gentle warmth for germination. Once the seeds have sprouted about half an inch tall, I relocate them to our basement where I have a lighting system set up.
Proper Amount of Light: Plants need lots of light or they won’t grow properly. I have found that keeping our newly sprouted plants in our south-facing windows doesn’t provide enough light and they get stalky, spindly and feeble. For the past two years we have placed all of our plants under artificial lights in our basement. We bought a metal shelving unit and hung fluorescent grow lights from open-link chains with S-hooks. As the plants grow, the lights are lifted link by link so it stays right above the plants. It’s important to keep the lights 3 to 4 inches above the plants as they grow. All the lights are then set on a timer so that the plants get 16 to 18 hours of light every day.
Attention: Check your plants daily. Once the seeds have sprouted it’s important to keep the plants properly watered, raise the lights so they stay the right distance above the plants and to make sure the lights and timer are working. As your plants grow, watch the weather. Do not place them outside until after the last frost date for your area and the soil has warmed. It’s always better to plant them later rather than having them die by a late frost or slowed down by cold soil. When you finally are ready to transfer your plants outdoors, do so gradually over the coarse of one week. A few hours one day, then a few hours more the next (always bringing them in at night) will acclimate them to the outdoors and will be ready to transplant.
Are you planning a summer garden? What are your must-plant items each year?