The arrival of spring means its time to start working on your vegetable and herb gardens. Follow these simple seed starting tips to get started!
This post was originally published on March 10, 2016. It was updated with new photos, additional information and seed resources.
Starting plants from seed is a great way to save money. Not only is it more affordable than buying plants from the nursery, but you can also choose heirloom varieties unlikely to make it to your grocery store or farmers market. From spicy peppers to juicy tomatoes, these seed starting tips will help make the task easier.
Here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, Spring has arrived! Weather forecasters assure us that Old Man Winter is gone and by the look of my garden I’d say they are right.
Although we had a mild winter overall, Spring is very welcome. Tender parsley stems are peeking up from the ground and volunteer cilantro is staking its claim on the herb garden. The strawberries are coming up too, so now I’m dreaming of red berries.
Inside my makeshift sunroom greenhouse forgotten mint and strawberries are coming to life despite not watering anything since December! It a time of year when green shoots emerge through dead leaves, triumphant and eager. Such an exciting time of year for gardeners!
Where to purchase seeds
I’ve purchased from all of the sources below and highly recommend them. Personally, I prefer to grow open pollinated, heirloom plants.
Planting a garden is a great way you can contribute to biodiversity. Sometimes the most delicious fruit is not the best fruit for commercial growers. If produce does not store well or is too fragile for shipping, you won’t see it in grocery stores, leaving many varieties at risk of going extinct. But these same varieties can be perfect for the yard to table scenario!
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Baker Creek was started by Jere Gettle when he was just 17 years old. Now, 19 years later, the company offers over 1850 fine varieties of unique seeds from over 100 countries.
Victory Seeds sells heirloom, open pollinated seeds. They raise many of the seeds they sell, but what they don’t produce themselves, they obtain from a network of carefully selected growers. If your garden is small, check out the Dwarf Tomato Project varieties they have available.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers more than 700 varieties of seeds, specializing in varieties that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions of the US.
Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Savers is a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds. They sell seeds but they also have a seed exchange, so you can swap seeds with growers around the country.
Pinetree Garden Seeds
This family owned business has been around since 1979. In addition to thier collection of heirloom and organic seeds, Pinetree sells plants and garden supplies.
Seed Starting Steps
I wish all plants could be perennial, but alas in the Mid-Atlantic annuals are a necessity. Now its time to start those summer veggies!
I began by cleaning out my sunroom to make it ready for all those little seed pots. Then it’s on to starting my indoor plantings. Guess its good that I saved seeds in the fall!
Here are some basic tips to get you started too!
Know your veggies
Many vegetables and herbs can be direct sown in the garden. Follow the instructions on your seed packet or follow the recommendations of your local farm extension to know when you should plant and what seeds should be started indoors.
In general, plants that need warm soil should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. These include (but are not limited to) tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil.
Many types of containers can be used to start seedlings. I prefer peat pots due to their relatively low cost and ease of use.
You can also use plastic containers destined for the recycling bin or disposable drink cups, just make sure to put drainage holes in the bottoms.
Many covered containers can create mini greenhouses, such as snack bins and covered deli trays. But all reuse is not suggested. I would shy away from egg cartons or shells due to their small size. Life (and weather) happens and you don’t want your plants to outgrow your containers before you can get them in the ground.
Your seeds don’t need sunlight until they germinate, so place them in a warm location to start. Once the plants start emerging, place your seedlings in a warm, sunny spot near a window.
Once you’ve sown your seeds, keep them moist. Watering with a spray bottle set to mist is a great way to keep the soil moist without disturbing seeds. Once seedlings have emerged, try to water the soil and not the plants to prevent mold from damaging tender plants.
Covering your seedlings with a a cloche or a soda bottle can retain moisture. But too much moisture can cause trouble with mold and fungus. Remove coverings during the day to let plants air out and cover them at night to keep them warm.
I use a small plastic covered greenhouse in my sunroom to keep my plants warm. To prevent a build up of moisture I use a small dehumidifier inside the greenhouse, which keeps humidity down while retaining the warmth of the enclosed space.
Make sure to label your plants! Although you may be able to spot the difference between a tomato and an eggplant leaf, telling the difference better a sweet and hot pepper is not so easy! If possible, write on both sides of the plant marker so if the sun bleaches one side, the other side is still readable!
Once seedlings are big enough to transplant, harden them by placing them outside to acclimate them to direct sunlight and fluctuating temperatures. Do this over the course of a week, starting with just a couple early morning hours and increasing the time each day.
Be sure to check the weather! Frost, strong wind or heavy rain can damage tender seedlings.
Plants, like people and pets, need love and attention. Check in on them daily to see what they need. And if you are nutty like me, talk to them and play them music. They will return the favor with a bountiful harvest!
Take notes on when you planted seeds, which seeds you started and when (and if) they germinated. Keep this journal going as you eventually transplant your seedlings into the garden. Jot down which plants performed best in your yard, so you have a starting point for next year!
Love DIY? Make sure to check out all out Home and Garden projects!
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