Seed to Garden Planting: Step 1 – Start Seeds Indoors

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If you are planning a garden plot or just want to make use of empty spaces in your flower beds for a few vegetables, you can save some money by starting seeds indoors, rather than having to buy seedlings to plant.

Growing flowers, vegetables and herbs is not difficult, though you do have to watch to grow only those deemed hardy enough to grow in your area.

You can often go by what your neighbors or family are successfully harvesting, but there are hardiness zones to help you when it comes to deciding what can grow in your particular area.

Plant Hardiness Zones

Plant hardiness zones are geographically sectioned areas and the system was originally developed by the US Department of Agriculture, but other countries have since adopted their own climate-based zone systems.  You should only buy plants, flowers or vegetable seeds or seedlings for outdoor planting, based on the hardiness to your area.

These zones are based on average temperatures or coldness and denote how cold a climate plants in that area can usually tolerate.  So a perennial or tree that is deemed to be hardy to zone 4, should be able to tolerate -35° C, but one for up to zone 8, may only be hardy to -12° C.  The lower the zone number, the colder the climate in that area.

When it comes to annuals -plants that survive only one season, zones may not seem that important, but for perennials – plants that usually hibernate and come back year after year, or trees that remain outdoors year round, you will want them to be able to tolerate your coldest winter temperatures. It’s their best chance for survival.

Keep in mind that though hardiness zones are a good guideline for gardeners, there are no guarantees as to plants surviving in certain areas, even when your zone should be ideal.  When buying from online garden stores, make sure to buy plants, seeds or seedlings suitable for your hardiness zone.

When to Start Seeds Indoors:

Not all vegetables and flowers need to be started indoors; some can be planted right in to the garden outdoors.  It’s usually denoted on the seed package or listed on the gardening site whether a plant needs to be started indoors.  But starting them indoors does give them a head start, and that can make a difference especially if they need a long growing season.

You usually start seeds about six weeks before you can plant them outdoors – after the threat of frost has passed.  For some, outdoor planting may be early June, but others may enjoy a frost-free planting as early as May.  Some seeds are entirely safe even with a light frost, so seeds can often be put in the ground earlier. But seedlings (those you start indoors or buy) are much more susceptible to frost. For my neck of the woods, seeds should be started indoors now.

How to Start Vegetable and Flower Seeds Indoors:

Read Also : Harvesting the Garden – Canning & Preserving

You’ll need a sunny window or patio door, starter trays with peat pellets or small pots, drip trays and good potting soil.  Adding a fertilizer to the soil is recommended, or use a rich, fertilized potting soil blend.  There are also special soils specifically for starting seeds, it depends how much you want to spend to get started.

Peat pellets are a good alternative to filling a small plastic or earth-friendly plant-with-the-seedling types of pots.  When pellets are used, place each pellet with the indentation on the top, in a drip tray allowing a little room between them.  Specially designed pellet trays are best, they have inserts that tend to hold pellets upright. Pellets will eventually be planted directly in the garden along with the seedling.

Add enough water to soak the pellets and wait a few minutes till they expand.  Then place a few seeds into the top middle indentation and push some of the foil over it.  When using pots, fill with soil three-quarters full, add seeds and top with soil. Be careful to add only adequate soil on top; some seeds need very little. And remember to label as you go.

You can also use recycled tetra juice containers for plant pots, by cutting to the proper height, but make sure to pierce a few drainage holes in the bottom. Empty egg cartons make good seed starters as well, but using containers does have a drawback, it can be difficult to remove the seedlings later, without overly disturbing its roots.

Seeds vary in time needed to germinate.  Those seedlings in the image featured above – some sprouted at day four after planting, others a few days later and the flower seeds in the peat pellets (shown below) have still not sprouted a week later; this is normal.

Avoid the temptation to over plant; you don’t need to use ALL the seeds in a packet if you don’t want to.  You can reclose the seed package, place it in a baggy and store in a dry, cool place for use next Spring.

Choose carefully what you want to plant and what will be started indoors.  I tend to start some vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cukes, and zuchinni indoors, others such as swiss chard, lettuce, radishes, beans and the like will be seeded directly in the garden later.

Since I will need too many annuals and lack that much indoor space to start their seeds, I usually buy those as seedlings at a bargain center for direct planting when the fear of frost is passed. But I do start some perennials indoors every year, to economically augment my flower beds.

Some gardeners will use indoor grow lights, also known as full spectrum lighting, to encourage sprouting and growth of the seedlings.  This is purely optional and a good way to speed things up.  I’ve found that a sunny location is adequate and have not used grow lights.

But your pots do need warmth, a sunny location and need to be kept moist until they sprout.  After sprouting, water as needed, but avoid drowning the seedlings.   A clear plastic cover or food wrap loosely on top helps to keep in warmth and moisture, but remove once seedlings are too tall for the cover.

When seeds are planted, it’s a good idea to plant a few in each pot.  That’s because some may not sprout for whatever reason.  After they sprout, you’ll need to weed out the stragglers to keep one or two good seedlings, depending on the size of pot you are using.

Turn the seed trays occasionally to prevent them growing on a slant as they strive for the sun.  Once the outdoor temperature warms up during the day, you will start to acclimatize your seedlings to the outdoors, by placing seedling trays in the sun, making sure to bring them in before the evening chill.

READ ALSOSeed to Garden Step 2: A Little TLC 

Some seedlings such as tomatoes can be encouraged to develop a stronger root system by plucking off the top leaves.  At some point as your seedlings grow, you may have to transplant them to larger pots until planting time.

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