You may want to start your own plants from seed, either to save money or to grow special varieties not readily available as transplants. That’s one of the most satisfying aspects of growing your own food – enjoying beautiful gourmet organic vegetables you just can’t get at the store. Many people start some of their plants from seed and buy plants of the more common varsities.
A few plants, particularly some herbs, are not “true” when grown from seed and should be purchased as plants or started from cuttings. Other plants, such as root vegetables, are best sown directly into the garden. Check in.
Don’t be intimated! It’s not difficult to start your own plants from seed. And, remember “practice makes perfect”. These are (again, in our opinion) best practices for starting seeds.
- Whenever possible, use organic seed – they make the healthiest seedlings.
- Use this Edibles Seed Starting & Planting Schedule to layout your plan.
- You can use any number of seed-starting pot "systems". Although not ideal, it is also acceptable to start seed in larger pots usually used for the transplants; you can sow the seeds closer together in the pot (spacing information is available for each plant listed under and it's printed on the seed packet) and move the seedlings into their "transplant" pots later. You may be tempted to plant seeds directly into their transplant pots and skip a step, but most plants do not like being in pots that are larger than they need. They don't like their maturing roots to getcrowded in too small pots either. Play Goldylocks and grow them in the right size pot for the current development stage.
- Use a sterile planting mix specifically blended for starting seeds. There are many commercial options in stores and from online sources.
- Some seeds require darkness to germinate (emerge from the seed) while others require light. You’ll find out which for each vegetable you look up in .
- For seeds that do not need light to germinate, top your pots with a 1/4 to 1/2 inch of vermiculite to conserve moisture and prevent “dampening off”, the most common affliction of seedlings.
- Water from the bottom – that is place your pots (all of which should have drainage holes) in a tray of water to absorb the water until they are moist, but not wet; then remove.
- Seeds have an ideal germination temperature that is often warmer than the air temperature. Some folks put these on top of their refrigerator and other warm areas. Heat mats for germinating seeds are a useful tool to create that ideal temperature. You’ll find them in a variety of sizes online.
- Once seedlings have at least 2 sets of leaves (the 2nd set are called “true” leaves), transplant them into pots and follow directions on fertilizing as stated for each vegetable in . For most crops, a 3" square/round pot is adequate. Larger crops such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant will benefit from larger 5" pots.
- Water the soil thoroughly before planting the seedlings.
- Poke a hole in the soil and place the seedling at the same depth it was in its previous container. Hold the seedling by a leaf, not the stem or roots. Disturb the roots as little as possible.
- Gently, yet firmly, pack the soil around the seedling.
- On a regular basis, brush the seedlings lightly with your hands to simulate wind, in order grow strong, sturdy plants.
- Never let the roots dry out and water from the bottom.
- Let young seedlings become adjusted to the outdoors gradually (called "hardening off") before planting into the garden.
Visit the Vegtables Forum at GreatLakesGardeners.com to get answers to your growing vegetables questions. To ask a new question, Register if you haven't already done so(it's free and helps protect the forum from spam), click on Start New Topic, enter your question and click on Post New Topic.
You may also appreciate these books on growing vegetable gardens.