Popularity in grow-your-own vegetables has increased considerably over the last few years. Not only in the U.S but around the world!
Where most people the appeal to grow your own veggies has been primarily health driven, for other first-time gardeners, growing fresh veggies has been sighted as a less expensive path to access healthy food as the average U.S home garden yields $600 of produce each year.
According to the U.S National Gardening Association, the COVID pandemic created 18.3 million new gardeners resulting in 55% of American households engaging in gardening activities.
Growing a lush garden per annum is a homesteader’s dream! The ability to grow a verity of fresh veggies to get your family through the season or even the winter is typically the goal.
So, how do you get the most out of each plant during their growing season? The answer is simple. Start your seeds indoors.
Here are a few seed starting tips to make the task a little easier.
Understanding your seeds
Knowing when to start your seeds is the best place to start.
For example, you’ll need to start your onion seeds in January (depending on where you live) but will not need to start your tomatoes and peppers until the end of February or early march.
Maybe you are unsure when to start your seedlings and that is ok! There are plenty of resources available at no cost to you and everybody loves free!
Knowing what zone you live in is a great place to start when considering starting seeds indoors.
The Farmer’s Almanac is a go to reference for many seasoned and amateur gardeners a like, and Morning Chores has a handy “Garden Size” calculator to guide you on how many seeds to start. Simply input how many people are in your family and select which varieties of veggies you would be interested in growing and the calculator will tell you how many plants you need to grow and how big your garden should be.
Don’t break the bank on grow lights
Companies have been making a small fortune from the boom in new gardeners, especially when it comes to lights.
Having adequate lighting for your seedlings is paramount to starting seeds indoors, and if you plan on utilizing grow lights the cost will add up quickly.
An easy alternative would be to use what you have on hand whenever possible.
Shop lights are around half the cost of what grow lights might cost, and the bulbs last quite a while. The best part is most American homeowners already have them on hand!
This is a great money-saving option.
It is important to note that lowering your lights to hover about 2 inches from your seedlings will encourage stronger plants,
Just be mindful to avoid burning new growth, so if needed space the lights higher off of the new seedlings if the bulb you are using produces a higher amount of heat.
Seed Starting Mix
Whether you create your own seed staring mix or purchase a ready to use mix, be mindful to use proper personal protection.
Ensure the area you are handling the dry mix in is well ventilated or utilize a face mask. This will prevent Legionnaires Disease which is essentially a form of severe pneumonia that can be contracted from the bacteria that may live in potting soil and compost.
Seed staring mixes are often lighter and finer than your average potting soil. This allows the tender new roots to navigate through with ease.
Potting soil is often too rich in nutrients and does not drain as well as seed starting mix. Generally, speaking, seedlings won’t need their nutrients until their first full set of true leaves sprout.
The first set of leaves pushed out by a seedling are called Cotyledons. Cotyledons are part of the seed itself and deliver nutrients to get your seedlings started.
Soil companies have come up with great sterile seed starting mixes to put your mind at ease.
Maintain sufficient moisture
When trying to get seeds to germinate, consistent moisture is key. You don’t want to allow your seeds to sit in soaking wet soil but maintaining an evenly moist environment is an important step in starting seeds indoors.
Use wide, flat containers to avoid overcrowding and make sure the base can drain well.
Black grow trays are great and often come with clear plastic tops to help aid in moisture retention and warmth.
Utilizing recycled cardboard boxes (the low-profile type you might find canned food shipped in at BJ’s or Costco) work great too! Just ensure you poke enough drain holes in the bottom.
In leu of plastic tops, you can use cling wrap. Just make sure you remove the wrap at least once a week to prevent mold from growing or root rot from starting. I usually allow them to breathe for a few hours each week.
Once your seedlings start pushing real growth, start to introduce a mild starter nutrient like a 3-10-3 by Bonide (or something similar).
Thinning out the crop
Once you have developed seedlings, thin out your crop and begin to up pot. Companies have created great biodegradable options when it comes to seed starting, so we always recommend using them. You can plant directly into the ground after hardening your seedlings off and they will break down into the soil.
Many gardeners will hold onto grow pots from years prior as well and reuse them.
One mistake made while potting seedlings is putting them into containers that are too big for them.
Faster growing veggies like tomatoes and beans will do well in 6” pots as their fast growing roots will fill the pot up well, but slower growing veggies like peppers, onions and beets would appreciate 4” pots. This will ensure your seedlings aren’t sitting in wet soil, yet they will be able to soak up adequate water and nutrients.
Turn seedlings daily
Most seedlings will not germinate without sunlight and will perform best with 12-16 hours of sunlight per day.
Give seedlings a quarter turn per day to prevent overreaching toward light and develop week elongated stems.
Brushing your hand gently over top of your seedlings or introducing gentle air flow (a fan on low at a distance) will encourage strong stem growth as well.
Acclimating to the great outdoors
Hardening off your seedlings is imperative. It is best to do this over a 3-5 day period after the last frost and temps average 50 daily.
Place them in direct sunlight during the morning on the first day of hardening them off. Progress forward to allow a few hours each day of direct sunlight until they are vigorous enough to be transplanted into your raised bed or directly into the ground.
Slow and steady wins the race so, take your time with this process. It is also a labor of love.