If the weather in your area of the world is anything like mine, then chances are there are many varieties of vegetables that you simply can not start from seeds directly outdoors. This is because the amount of time you would have from the moment the weather “cooperates” until the day when the weather no longer “cooperates” isn’t very long.
Take for example tomatoes. Most tomato varieties require anywhere from 70 to 90 days for full maturity. There are a lot of places that do not have the 70 days, let alone the 90. So what can a vegetable gardener do to overcome this?
There is one basic solution to this dilemma and that is to start your seeds indoors. Sounds like a no-brainer right? But before you just shrug off this as being common knowledge, lets take a look at what you need to do in order to maximize the chances of your indoor seeds actually being productive for the outdoors.
Let’s start with the soil for your needs. There are a variety of seed starting soil mixes on the market available at any home or garden center for just a few bucks (depending on how much you buy). These work fine. What you want is a soil that is very loose and filled with nutrients. So be sure to read the package if you decide to buy a pre-made mix and read what it contains. Peat and perlite will more than likely be the two top ingredients as peat is friable and gives the soil its looseness and the perlite helps with improved aeration and better drainage. They will differ on the nutrient end of things as organic seed starters will contain compost and protein meal whereas non-organic will contain chemical combinations for the appropriate N-P-K (nitrogen - phosphorous - potassium) needs of seeds.
You can always create your own seed starting mix as well, and if you have your own compost pile, I would highly recommend it since you know what your compost is made out of. Equal parts peat, perlite and compost should suffice and if you want to go even “greener”, substitute coir for peat. Coir is coconut husk and is just as friable as peat, just a bit more expensive.
Next you will need something to put the soil in. Here your possibilities are endless. You can go with trays, up through plantable pots, reuse old cottage cheese containers, you name it. The choice is really yours. I find using plantable cell flats are much easier, but I also use some leftover yogurt cups, with holes drilled into the bottom for drainage, as well.
Using warm water, I like to water the soil first before I put it into any pots and plant any seeds. I feel it makes it easier to work with. A bit messier, but easier to work with. Just make sure when you water the soil, you do so in a container that has plenty of drainage. You want your soil moist, not saturated.
Fill your pots, cell flats or whatever it is you have chosen with the moist soil. Poke holes to the depth that is needed for the seeds you are planting, drop the seeds in and lightly cover.
Your seeds will need plenty of sun and a good germination temperature. For me, I place my seed starters on or near the windows of my house that receive the sunlight first thing in the morning. This gives them the most exposure of sunlight throughout the day.
For germination temperatures, I like to use a propagation dome on all my seed trays. This helps keep a constant, warm temperature for the seeds and helps not only ensure the seeds will germinate, but do so rather quickly. Once in awhile we will get lucky in our area and have a 65 to 75 degree day when the average temperature is under 50. If this happens for you, don’t be afraid to take the seeds outside and into the full sun. This practice especially comes in handy when you need to start hardening your plants off.
Once your seeds germinate, you will want to keep an eye on them. When they get larger you will need to move them to bigger containers so their growth will continue, and the new soil, in its new container will have more nutrients for the young plant to take advantage of.
About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us, the moderator for the largest vegetable gardening page on Facebook and creator of the monthly Seeds Club.
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