Vegetable seeds are like people- some of them are more picky than others. With some seeds, you can pretty much drop them in the ground in the spring and leave them alone til it’s time to harvest. Others, however, require a little more TLC and attention. This spring, we are going to be focusing on growing vegetables and herbs that are on the low maintenance side. And if you are a beginning gardener, well then this is a great place for you to start as well. After all, who doesn’t want all of the benefits of a home garden without all the hassle?
Now that spring is just around the corner, it’s time to start preparing to start your seeds. The term “seed starting” refers to the process of actually planting your seeds indoors, and waiting until they sprout into seedlings before transplanting them into your backyard garden or a larger container. The process of seed starting allows you to begin growing your seeds while the ground is still hard and frozen outside, and gives you a much better chance for success once you transplant your seedlings outdoors. Starting seeds is a process that is easy, fun, and does not require a lot of supplies. Follow these 10 steps to seed starting to get your own easy vegetable and herb garden up and running this spring.
10 Tips for Seed Starting
(1) Select easy to grow seeds
How do you know which ones will be easy? Patricia Becker, center director for Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto, California, says that beginner gardeners who are trying to decide which plants to start from seed can follow this general guideline: The bigger the seed, the easier it is to grow. She says beans, peas, corn, and edible nasturtium flowers are all easy plants to grow from seeds. You can also consult Fern’s list at Life on the Balcony of 10 simple to grow fruits, veggies, and herbs.
(2) Consult your seed packets
You’ll see that each packet of Botanical Interests seeds contains straightforward directions on how to start your seeds. Make sure to pay attention to details such as when to start your seeds, germination time, and spacing information. Some flower seeds, such as clarkia, alyssum, California poppies, sunflowers, and columbine can be sown directly in your garden. However, with most vegetables, starting your seeds indoors gives you a major advantage.
(3) Select eco-friendly seed starting pots
Your local gardening store will carry plastic seed starting trays specifically for the purpose of planting your seeds indoors. For a considerably more earth-friendly option, we suggest using any of our 3 different sized Cow Pots. These little pots are awesome because they are made from re-purposed cow manure (but are odor free). When it comes time to transplant your seedlings, you can do it right in the biodegradable pot! The manure helps your seedlings to grow strong and healthy roots. For another option, you can also use recycled yogurt cups, egg cartons, or cottage cheese containers. Don’t forget to label your pots so that you know which plant is which.
(4) Use a quality seed starting soil mix
Make sure that each seed staring pot has a small hole in the bottom to allow for adequate water drainage. If you are using recycled pots, insure that you have cleaned them thoroughly using a diluted bleach solution. Then, place all of your pots on a tray, metal baking sheet, or other device that can catch stray drips and dirt blobs. Fill each pot with a quality seed starting mix. No, just plain ol’ dirt won’t do. You see, when seeds are just starting out, they need a nice nutrient-rich mix with a nice, light consistency. We recommend Black Gold Seedling mix, which is perfect for the job. Dirt from your yard may also contain pathogens and diseases, which seeds are particularly susceptible to.
(5) Sow the seeds at the proper depth
Once again, refer to the back of your trusty seed packet for information on depth. Peas and beans, for example, only need to be sown about 1/2 inch below the soil, then lightly covered. Root plants such as carrots, however, need to be sown a bit more deeply at about 1 inch. Once you have placed your seeds in the soil, water them gently using a spray bottle, then cover them with plastic wrap, recycled plastic bags, or a glass window pane. This will help them to retain moisture during the germination process.
(6) Be patient
While your seeds germinate, there is pretty much nothing you need to do to them. They do not even need sunlight at this phase, but will do best in a safe, slightly warm, dry spot. We like to put our on top of the refrigerator, where it stays cozy and they are out of Fido and Kitty’s reach. Because the seeds are covered with plastic, they should not even need to be watered. Every couple of days, you can life a corner and poke the soil to make sure it is still moist. If it is dry, spray it gently with some water. Allow the seeds to remain undisturbed.
(7) Watch for germination
The term “germination” refers to the stage where the plant begins to emerge from the dormant seed. Depending on what type of seeds you plant, this length of time will vary. Beets tend to take one to two weeks depending on the temperature, whereas cucumbers and jalapeno peppers take only about 3 days. Once your seeds have germinated, remove them from their cozy spot and place them by a window or patio door in order to allow them to receive sunlight. Ideally, your seedlings should now receive a good 8 hours of sunlight per day.
(8) Turn, turn, turn
As your seedlings grow, turn them 1/4 turn every couple of days. This will help to prevent them from growing sideways, towards the source of natural light. It is also helpful to keep your seedlings in a place where there is good airflow. If the spot you have selected is stagnant, try pointing a fan at your seedlings to provide a gentle breeze for a couple hours a day. This will help your seedlings to develop strong, healthy stems.
(9) Water as needed
Okay, so when it comes to water, there really can be too much of a good thing. So don’t over-do it, but do keep your seedlings adequately moist. As I discuss in my new book Garden Rules: The Snappy Synopsis for the Modern Gardener, most vegetable plants do not like wet feet, and will not thrive in swampy soil. If the soil is dry to the touch, water it. If not, wait to water.
(10) Get ready to transplant
Once your seedlings have grown to about 2 inches in height, you can get ready to transplant them. Yay! Depending on where you live, this may occur anywhere from late February to late April. A good general rule of thumb is to make sure that you wait until the last chance of frost has passed. Then, it is time to “harden off” your plants. For the d.l. on what it means to harden your plants off, check back with our Starting Your Garden from Botanical Interests Seeds post from last spring.
Now if we were to list an eleventh rule, it would be, don’t be intimidated! There are plenty of edibles out there that are easy to grow, and that can be grown even if all you have room for is a couple pots on your porch. In fact, we love the idea of growing edibles in unexpected, small spaces. For more information on growing food when you don’t have a yard, check out our blogs Get Creative When Gardening in Small Spaces and Growing Food When You Don’t Have the Space for a Garden.