Dust Yourself Off and Try Again: starting vegetable seeds for beginners
Updated: Feb 27
So here we are, in the last week of June… and here I am, talking about growing vegetables from seeds?! Hey, better late than never… yeah that’s it! Truth is it's never too late to garden. One of the beautiful things about gardening is the versatility that each season brings. If moms love anything, it is certainly versatility. With changes in the weather and elements come a new selection of plants to start, transition and/or harvest. I started this journey four months ago, and today I am proud to say that I have the cutest little (and I do mean little) assortment of vegetables to enjoy and look forward to. How did I get started? Glad you asked!
Starting seeds indoors:
What do I need to get started?
Decomposable pots or egg carton
Seeds (preferable organic)
When should I start?
With good intentions and high hopes, I started my first seeds in the beginning of March. I knew that this would be a good time to start because most vegetables begin to germinate a few weeks after being planted. And because lettuce and onion are pretty sturdy plants, they make good choices for early spring crops because they will usually survive fickle weather. I live in the state of Indiana, so I have to greatly consider changes in the cooler climate that I didn’t worry as much about when I started my first garden in Nashville, TN. I also chose to start flower seeds as well. I planned to grow a few beds of colorful flowers to spice up the place a bit and attract pollinators. Determining when to start your vegetable seeds greatly depends on what you are growing. To get a better idea of the best time to grow vegetable plants, click here for a sample growth chart.
You can do it put your back into it!
To start my seeds, I chose Jiffy Organic Seed Starting Mix. I was really happy with this choice of soil as it was loose and fluffy, allowing seeds to properly root through, and oxygen to freely circulate. However, keep in mind that watering needs to take place frequently, as finer soil tends to dry out faster. When seeds are in the beginning phases of taking root and growing, they need an extra portion of nutrients. The goal is to keep the soil moist, allowing it to slightly dry out before re-watering. I found this out the hard way as I eventually lost my kale, onion and flowers…….
I initially planted my seeds in recyclable egg cartons before discovering these small decomposable pots that are the perfect size for starting most seeds. This way I am able to plant the seedlings directly into a larger amount of soil when ready to transplant. Starting seeds directly in these pots would have saved me a whole step in this process but hey, you live and you learn!
Getting started! I filled each egg carton nook 3/4 full. I then placed 2-3 seeds on top of the soil in each crate. Taking a hand full of soil, I sprinkled a layer of it over the seeds to gently cover them. Because the seeds that I used are very small, they should not be pushed too deep into the soil. To set the soil and ensure it stays nice and moist for the seeds, I gently added enough water to thoroughly wet the soil through, making sure that the water did not move the seeds from underneath the dirt. Yep, this is the step that could have been avoided. To make your life easier (because trust me, I'm always looking for ways) avoid the egg cartons and go straight to planting your seeds in the decomposable pots.
Now!... Back to our regularly scheduled programming! I chose to upgrade my seedling to pots because they were rapidly outgrowing the egg cartons, but were not yet ready for the great outdoors. Before transplanting the seedlings from cartons to pots, I used a plastic mixing bowl to prepare the soil by filling the bowl ¾ with soil, then adding just enough water to dampen it. This step was not necessary when using the egg cartons because they are shallow enough to allow the water to fully penetrate each nook. Once the soil was nice and rich, I filled each pot ¾ with soil. I gently pried the seedling from it's nook and stabled it in it's new pot. After securing the seedling I filled the pot with more pre-moistened soil and gently packed (patted) the soil down to secure the plant and avoid air pockets.
Where should I grow my plants?
To best ensure the growth of your seeds I recommend using a controlled environment to start your seedlings. Because seedlings are very delicate, leaving them to fend for themselves, exposed to the elements can be risky. Ideally, your seedlings should be grown indoors close to a source of natural sunlight for 14-16 hours. This can however prove to be a great challenge for most growers, and nearly impossible for growers in Indiana like myself. With this in mind I chose to make a DIY grow station for my new babies. Keeping them close to Mommy, right where they should be. Tutorial on DIY grow station coming soon!
How do I sustain seedlings?
As I previously mentioned, seedlings need LOTS of light. If you are growing seedlings using a natural light source, it is best to use a south facing window, rotating plants regularly to avoid leaning toward the sun. If you are using an artificial light source such as LED or fluorescent lights, seedlings should be placed a few inches under the light source for 14-16 hours a day. As the plants grow taller, the light should be adjusted to remain a few inches about the top of the plant so that it does not cause heat damage to the leaves. Water plants as necessary, which will usually be daily to every 2 days, depending on how well the soil retains moisture. Allow soil to slightly dry out before watering. Do not let them get completely dry for an extended period of time. It is best to set up a fan to increase air circulation and decrease the chances of damage caused by fungus and bacteria.
When should I move plants outdoors?
Once you have decided that your baby is big and strong enough (check growth requirements of crop) to move outdoors, you can prepare it for the transition by what is called “hardening”. Because your plant has been coddled for weeks now, it is not prepared to just be thrown to the wolves. Instead, we will hold it’s hand and slowly let go root by root. You want to start by sitting it under a partially shaded area, protected by from the wind, for a few hours a day. As the days pass, time outside should be increased and protection from the wind should be decreased. After 7-10 days, your plant should be ready to venture off on it’s own (with a little assistance of course). But it’s okay, you did everything you needed to set him up for this journey. Now it's time to trust each other!
Dust yourself off and try again!
After the loss of my precious kale, onion and flowers, I think it is fair to say that if you are in the beginning stages of gardening, be prepared for setbacks and surprises. Notice I did not say failures. There is no such thing as failing when you are growing in your craft. Each setback is a lesson learned… and who doesn’t love surprises?! The victory is in not allowing uncertainty and confoundment to keep you from reaching your goals. My goal for my spring/summer garden was to have a variety of vegetables… lettuce, onion, tomatoes, cucumber and peppers growing and harvesting. And although I had some challenges, I definitely made gains with my beautiful bed of lettuce that I am now harvesting, and thriving tomato and banana pepper plants that will be ready to harvest in a few weeks. No, you didn’t miss anything! I didn’t mention my tomato and pepper plants before because I didn’t start them from seeds, but instead adopted them from Walmart after making up in my mind that I was not going to give up my vision just because of a few delays. Now that we are fully into the summer I am now preparing for my next batch of veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and kale… yes, kale again!) that will be ready for a fall harvest. With change comes new opportunities and chances.
Gardening allows us to practice many beneficial principles, like patience and persistence, that can be applied to many facets of life.
Getting the littles involved with gardening duties provides a great opportunity for learning.