If you are like me, the first signs of an impending Spring send me grabbing my seed catalogs and gathering tools, ready to get a jumpstart on the gardening season. Depending on your climate, for many cold-hardy vegetables, March is the perfect time to get growing. Seed starting indoors is a great way to extend the growing season, especially if you live in a cold climate. By the time you put them in the ground, your plants will be established and should grow quickly.
There are many benefits to growing your own seedlings, but most of all is the cost savings. One packet of seeds typically costs less than one six-pack of seedlings. And not to worry if you don’t plant all of those seeds in one season, lots of seeds will still be viable for a few years. The other benefit is the ability to start the gardening season much earlier. Starting your own seedlings can extend your garden season and it allows you to get your hands in some dirt (even if it’s just potting soil) much earlier, especially if you live in a cold climate,
To keep your scheduling of seed starting simple, find out the date of the last frost in your area and count backwards the weeks according to the seed packet. For example, if your last frost date is May 20th and you are planting broccoli, you would need 12 weeks to grow before planting outside. That gives you a seed starting date of March 4th. If you aren’t sure when you should be planting outside, I found this handy freeze/frost calendar at davesgarden.com. Just enter in your zip code to help determine when to plant your seedlings outside. Another great resource is the Burpee Seed Starting Calendar. It tells you, based on your zip code, when to plant various vegetables, fruits, flowers, and herbs.
Still not sure what to start with? I recommend starting cold-hardy, transplant-happy, vegetables. Kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are all good choices. Many annual flowers are easy to start indoors, including marigolds, sunflowers, snapdragons, zinnias and cosmos.
Alright, so let’s do this!
To grow your seeds indoors you’ll need:
- A sunny window or grow lights
- Potting soil
- Egg cartons bottoms (use paper ones for easy transplanting) or seed starting containers. You can even make your own out of toilet paper rolls or newspaper too.
- Clear plastic salad greens container to use as a mini-greenhouse or plastic wrap.
- Markers or popsicle sticks to identify each seed variety planted
1) First, put some potting soil in a large container and add some water to moisten. Stir it up! You want moist, but not muddy soil.
2) Next, put some soil in each seedling container space (egg cartons in this case), leaving about a quarter of an inch of room at the top. If you have a clear plastic salad green container, place the egg cartons in the plastic container and it serves as a mini-greenhouse.
3) Sprinkle two seeds into each space following the seed packet directions for depth and then cover with the appropriate amount of soil.
4) Put the clear plastic lid on the salad greens container. If you are using an egg carton and don’t have plastic containers, place the egg carton on a waterproof tray or cookie sheet and cover it with plastic wrap.
5) If your starting more than one seed variety, remember to mark your seedings! An easy way to that is to write on the box top or use popsicle sticks as markers.
6) Find a neutral area in your house to place your containers. The best condition is not in direct sun and where the temperature stays consistently around 70 degrees.
7) Once the seeds have germinated or sprouted, remove the lid and place in a sunny window or under grow lights. Rotate regularly so that the seedling don’t get leggy leaning toward the light.
8) Water as needed with a mister spray bottle or from underneath (my preference). If you are using paper egg cartons, you can add water to a tray and the plant will drink it up from the bottom. Be careful not to over water.
9) If your seedlings become too large for the egg cartons, you can easily replant them into a larger container. I use paper egg cartons for this reason. It is easy to pop them right into a large yogurt container and I love that I don’t have to disturb the roots. The plant will keep growing right through the egg carton!
Have fun and stay tuned! My next post will cover the details of transplanting into larger pots, thinning the plants, hardening off, and finally getting them into the garden. Cheers to a new gardening season!
Ready to keep going and growing? Click here for more seed starting ideas and tips!