It’s official. Gardening season is upon us. We’ve *patiently* waited all winter long. We’ve endured the cold, dark, and rainy days, and the time has finally come. Time to dust off the gardening gloves, buy a few bags of soil, bust open those seed packets, and get growing.
This is the first year I’m planning to start my garden with plants I grew from seed. I say planning because the plants still haven’t made it in the ground, and we both know anything could happen between now and then. But, things are looking pretty promising, if I do say so myself! Now, I’ve attempted to grow from seed a few times before, but always halfheartedly and without much determination. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked out very well in the past. But this year, I was determined to do it. And what do you know, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d made it out to be in my head. But we’ll talk about that in just a bit. Right now, I just have to share a picture of my little garden helper:
I mean come on, does it get any cuter??
I wanted to start my plants from seed this year for two main reasons.
- I wanted to grow several varieties that can’t be found as plant starts at your local hardware store or garden center. These places typically carry common and popular varieties that are often hybrids and “tried and true” varieties. This isn’t to say there is anything wrong with growing these. Honestly, I am truly a sucker for the garden center at these stores and often end up with a cart full of baby tomato plants with nowhere to put them. But this year I wanted to grow some heirloom varieties that are renowned for their flavor. I ordered these seeds from Baker Creek seeds, which has an amazing selection of heirloom seeds for all types of fruits and vegetables.
- The second reason for starting my garden from seed is simply to gain the skill of taking a seed and turning it into food. When I bought my vegetable starts at the garden center, I always felt like a link was missing in my knowledge of growing food at home. The importance of this has really weighed on me during the current craziness in the world right now. Seeing store shelves wiped clean of essentials has really made it even more important for me to be more “self sufficient” in terms of my gardening. I want to be able to buy one pack of seeds and grow food from it for years to come, by saving seeds from one fruit for the next year’s garden. It’s very comforting to know I essentially have an entire produce section tucked away at the top of my pantry in little packets.
And it doesn’t hurt that those little packets are so beautiful! Even the envelope they were shipped in has my little graphic designer’s heart fluttering!
So on to the practical part of this post. Starting seeds is fairly simple. I tend to be a perfectionist, and not really in a good way. As in, if I feel like I can’t do something absolutely perfectly or by the book, It’ll drive me crazy and so I just won’t do it at all. And I realized that’s what had been holding me back from starting seeds in the past. But I allowed myself to do a tiny bit of research, order a few essentials, and get to work. And what do you know, it worked.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Small 6-pack trays or multi-cell trays for initial planting
- 3 or 4″ individual pots for repotting when seedlings get too big
- potting soil
- plant trays
- shelf or area to put seedling with plenty of light
- grow lights (optional, but I highly recommend!) There are SO many grow light options, from light bulbs to shop lights to led strips. If they’re advertised as grow lights they should be fine. I went with something very similar to the link above and I couldn’t be happier.
I experimented with a few different sizes of plastic pots. I got little 6-packs like what you get from a garden center, and little 2″ individual pots. In retrospect, I wish I had ordered at least 3″ pots instead, because the ones I got were not really much larger than the cells in the 6-pack, so using them to repot my seedlings didn’t really work.
The purpose of the plant trays is to hold all of the little seedling pots which makes it much easier to move them or water, since it catches the extra water.
I started all of my seeds roughly 8 weeks before my area’s predicted “last frost” date, which is around April 15. This will vary depending on where you live, so just look up what growing zone you live in based on your zip code, and look up that growing zone’s last frost date. This date basically tells you when it will be warm enough to plant plants that can’t tolerate any frost or cold temperatures. These are your typical plants that are grown in the summer months like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, green beans, melons. Some plants can tolerate colder temperatures like most greens and lettuce, kale, cabbage, broccoli, beets, carrots, etc. Depending on your zone, these can be grown through fall, winter, and spring months. Use something like this gardening calendar to help you figure out when to start your seeds!
So I started off by getting big bag of potting soil and filling all of my little containers. Some people will recommend using a specific seed starting mix, but I’ve personally found a bag of good quality potting soil works fine.
Then make a small indention in the soil with your finger. Different seeds require different planting depths, so read the seed packet to be sure. Then drop one or two little seeds in the hole. Just know if you plant more than one, you will need to thin them out later. The reason you would plant more that one in the first place is in case one of them doesn’t germinate. Cover your seeds back up, and very gently water them in. I suggest using something like a spray bottle because pouring water on them can displace the seed and cause it to move. Now tuck your little seeds away in the spot you’ve prepared for them and wait for them to germinate!
Most seeds (aside from lettuce) do not need light to germinate, so don’t worry about that until the plants begin to pop up!
Within a week or so, little seedlings should begin to make their appearance!
I continue to water with a spray bottle until the seedlings get a little sturdier.
In no time at all, especially if you’re using grow lights, your seedlings will be huge! It’s important to transplant seedlings into larger pots as they grow, otherwise they can become rootbound and unhealthy. I also like to fertilize my plants when I move them to a bigger pot. I use an organic fertilizer dissolver in some water and simply water them with that at the time of transplant.
When transplanting tomatoes, remember to always plant the entire stem in the dirt. All those fuzzy little hairs will become roots and make your plant really strong!
I also planted a tray of loose leaf lettuce. This is such an easy way to grow salad greens indoors or on a porch all year round. Salad doesn’t like the heat, so here in Mississippi it’s often too warm to grow lettuce. But I can grow a tray or two like this all year inside and have an abundance of fresh organic greens.
Here’s a little update on the state of our raised bed garden. We’ve doubled in size, adding three more large beds this year. We’ve also tilled up a large patch for an in ground garden back by the barn to grow large vining plants like squash and melons that would take up too much space in the raised beds. I’ve currently got a few greens growing in the beds right now, but they will look very different in a matter of weeks!
I’ve got some baby Romaine, swiss chard, kale, few broccoli plants, some rogue lettuce (and way too many weeds) growing in my beds right now.
I’ve been working the soil and amending the beds with some fresh compost and mulch. They’re just about ready to go!
If you’ve never tried your hand at gardening, I highly suggest you give it a try! It is an incredibly rewarding hobby with amazing benefits. In uncertain times like we are living in right now, it’s a skill that can give you peace of mind when the grocery store shelves are sparse.
So grab a bag of soil, a few seed packets, and get your hands in the dirt. You won’t regret it!