Starting veggie plants from seeds

By Martha Fisher, last updated 3/27/13 03:51pm
Photos by Diane Stuart

Photo credit Diane Stuart  

It's not too late! If you're thinking about starting your own vegetable plants from seed and think you've let the opportunity slip by, relax. There is still time. The warm days a month or so ago tricked many of us into germinating seeds indoors. Believe it or not it was too early. Those plants will most likely be leggy and tipping over long before they can go outside.

Starting your own vegetable plants is a great way to ensure you get exactly what you want. There are so many different varieties to choose from that it can be mind numbing. More and more heirlooms are available as well as newer cultivars.

I will focus on the most popular plant in the home vegetable garden- tomatoes. The same guidelines apply to just about all seeds.

Tomatoes should be started indoors 4-6 weeks before the outside planting date. Now is a great time to get started.

Choose an heirloom with a wonderful name like Arkansas Traveler, Mortgage Lifter or Cherokee Purple. (to name a very few). Or stick with well known hybrids like Better Boy, Big Boy or one of the Beefsteaks.

Local big box and hardware stores like Home Depot have a nice variety of seeds, as well as seed starter packs like the one in the photo.

Supplies you need are:
- soil less seed starting mix which provides excellent drainage
- pots- multi-pack, coir, coconut fiber, or recycled plastic. (Peat is out unless you know where it came from-the bogs are being destroyed!)
- Light- fluorescent, incandescent, grow light- any bulb so long as it doesn't get too hot.
- Optional supplies include heat mats to provide bottom heat that will speed germination and mini greenhouses. These are plastic covers that fit over a group of pots to prevent the soil from drying out.

Just about every seed packet has instructions for planting. A general rule of thumb is to bury the seed to a depth equal to twice the size of the seed.

First things first

Important- Figure out where you are going to put your seedlings. They will be inside for at least a month and can get fairly large. The location needs to be near a source of electricity even if you have a very sunny spot. For best growth the seedlings need 14-16 hours of light every day!

Ready to plant?

Fill your containers with soil less seed starting mix. I like to water the mix until water comes out the drainage holes before planting. Next plant the seeds to the proper depth and water to settle the seeds into the soil.

Label the pots. You can do this with anything you have around the house like a marker and popsicle sticks, plant markers, tape, etc.

If you are using heat mats place them under everything else.

Be sure to check on the pots daily; they are small and can dry out quickly. The growing medium needs to be kept moist until the seeds germinate. Later water before your plants wilt.

Place lights just 4"-6" above the pots, moving them up as the plants get taller. If the lights are kept this close you will grow nice stocky plants.
As mentioned earlier, leave the lights on 14-16 hours every day.

When the seedlings look like they are getting too big for the pots, most likely they are so pot them up to the next larger size pot. The fewer times you do this the better as each time shocks the plant, slowing growth.

This will get you started in growing your own veggies. I'll write more next time about continued care, dealing with insects, hardening off, and planting in the garden.

Filed under Home & Garden, Food: organic, local, sustainably produced

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