Some vegetables, like Tomatoes , Eggplants, and Peppers require a long growing season. To ensure healthy growth, most gardeners start seeds for these vegetables indoors in Spring. Starting your own seeds is not only less expensive than purchasing transplants, it also generally results in a more productive harvest season. Plus, it’s a fun, rewarding way to kick off on the gardening season!
Make sure your containers have drainage holes. You can use recycled pots — for example, empty yogurt containers — but be sure to poke holes in the bottom for draining, so that your seeds are not over-watered. Plastic six-packs and flats are good choices and can be reused year after year. Biodegradable pots are fine, too.
How do you start vegetable seeds indoors? Here are 10 tips for successfully starting seeds:
Cool room temperature is best for seedlings. You’ll get sturdier, stockier seedlings if you grow them at temperatures in the high 60s. Finding a cooler room in your house or garage, while still maintaining a good light sorce, will help them thrive. At higher temperatures, seedlings may get leggy.
Begin fertilizing weekly. Use a half-strength fertilizer once your seedlings have one or two sets of leaves. Organic fertilizers are a good choice, since they provide a range of nutrients, including micronutrients.
Pot with seed-starting mix. These mixes don’t contain any actual soil, but they provide ideal conditions for sprouting seeds. Most importantly, they provide a good balance of drainage and water-holding capacity, and they minimize problems with disease on vulnerable seedlings. If possible, don’t use garden soil to start seeds indoors; it generally doesn’t drain well and may contain plant disease spores.
2. Start with quality soil.
Sow seeds in sterile, seed-starting mix or potting soil available in nurseries and garden centers. Don’t use garden soil, it’s too heavy, contains weeds seeds, and possibly, disease organisms. Wet the soil with warm water before filling seed-starting containers.
8. Give seedlings enough light.
Not enough light leads to leggy, tall seedlings that will struggle once transplanted outdoors. In mild winter areas, you can grow stocky seedlings in a bright south-facing window. Farther north, even a south-facing window may not provide enough light, especially in the middle of winter. Ideally, seedlings need 14-16 hours of direct light per day for healthiest growth. If seedlings begin bending toward the window, that’s a sure sign they are not getting enough light. Simply turning the pots won’t be enough – you may need to supply artificial lighting. Nurseries and mail order seed catalogs can provide lighting kits. Follow instructions carefully.
5. Maintain consistent moisture.
Prior to germination, cover your container to help trap moisture inside. Seed-starting kits typically come with a plastic cover. You can also use a plastic bag, but it should be supported so it doesn’t lay flat on the soil. Remove covers as soon as seeds sprout. Once seedlings are growing, reduce watering so soil partially drys, but don’t let them wilt.
9. Circulate the air.
Circulating air helps prevents disease and encourages the development of strong stems. Run a gentle fan near seedlings to create air movement. Keep the fan a distance away from the seedlings to avoid blasting them directly.
Seed-starting containers should be clean, measure at least 2-3 inches deep and have drainage holes. They can be plastic pots, cell packs, peat pots, plastic flats, yogurt cups, even eggshells. As long as they are clean (soak in a 9 parts water to one part household bleach for 10 minutes), the options are endless. You can also buy seed-starting kits, but don’t invest a lot of money until you’re sure you’ll be starting seeds every year. If you start seeds in very small containers or plastic flats, you’ll need to transplant seedlings into slightly larger pots once they have their first set of true leaves. Keep in mind that flats and pots take up room, so make sure you have enough sunny space for all the seedlings you start.
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Place the container in full sun where your summer annuals can soak up the warmth, and get enough light to open their petals.
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