Planning the Vegetable Garden: Seed Starting

I am so excited for Spring to finally come!  In anticipation, I am getting ready to plan my veggie garden.  I rely on my vegetable garden to feed us fresh veggies all summer long.  During the summer months, I try to avoid the grocery store as much as possible.  We have a few farmers around we get local meat and eggs from and when there are farmers markets and a garden out back, I have no desire to eat a single veggie from the produce department of a grocery store.  Ick!  I also try to preserve as much of the fresh produce as I can that way I can eat garden fresh fruits and veggies all year long.  So a garden for me is really a big deal.  There is nothing better than going out back and getting a full basket full of veggies.

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There are two main ways to get your vegetable garden started.  You can buy plants from a garden center or you can start your plants from seeds.  You can go either way or do a little of both, whatever fits your life better.  If you are new to gardening and are curious how to get started, check out my first post here!  I love starting my veggies from seeds because you have a lot more choices and I honestly just find it really fun.  But, for some people it is a lot more practical to just buy the plants already growing.  This post is going to be all about seed starting if you want to give it a try!

STEP 1- Determine the last frost date in your area.  This is going to tell you when everything needs started for you. Luckily, this is really easy.  Just enter your zip code.  Here are 2 links which gave me about a 2 week difference for my area.  Daves Garden said May 16th and the farmers almanac said April 29th.  I know from the past few years, April is WAY too early to put anything in the ground, so I am going to go with the May 16th date.

http://davesgarden.com/guides/freeze-frost-dates/#b

http://www.almanac.com/content/frost-chart-united-states/CA

STEP 2- Buy your seeds!  Get back to your finished garden plan that you determined in our previous post.  If you are starting from seeds, you will need to buy your seed packets now.  Most home and garden stores have their seeds out already, believe it or not!  I even saw seeds in my grocery store already.  You can buy seeds from a store, or order online.  Make sure to read over the packets of seeds and the descriptions.  There are so many varieties of plants out there when you start from seeds.  Taste, size of veggies, days until harvest, sun requirements are all usually listed on the packets.  For me being in a shorter growing season, I always lean towards the seeds that have less days until harvest to make sure I get the most veggies out of my garden.  If you are in a warmer area, there are many varieties of seeds that are heat tolerant which can be very helpful!  Shop around and pick what works for you.

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STEP 3- Sort through your seeds.  Read the backs of your seed packets and separate them into 2 piles.  The first is seeds that will be direct sewn into the garden, meaning you won’t need to look at them again until your last frost date rolls around because they go directly into the garden.  So for me, they go into a basket to wait until May 16th.  Seeds that normally get direct sown include lettuces, basil, parsley, beans, radishes, carrots, etc.

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The second pile is the important pile.  These are all of the seeds that say to start indoors.  These seeds will normally say something like this: “start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date”.  Seeds that normally get started indoors include peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower (usually 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date), melons, cucumbers, and squashes (4 to 6 weeks out).  The backs of the seed packets will give you the specific dates for the variety of seed you have.

STEP 4- Create a seed starting calendar.  I draw my garden squares out and write underneath each one when it needs started (see the pictures below).  You could also write on your calendar what seeds need started on what day.  I base my dates on Saturdays because I am home and able to get seed starting done.  For example, my last frost date is May 16th.  Working backwards 6 to 8 weeks, I know I need to start my peppers and tomatoes between March 14th and 28th.

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STEP 5- Set up your seed starting area.  Find a spot in your house that gets a lot of warm sunlight.  The more the better.  Most seeds prefer to germinate between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the past, I just set up some crates with a heating pad on top (like the ones you use when you have a sore back) and put it near a sunny window.  That works just fine!  This year, I wanted to give one of these little indoor greenhouses a try.  The room I have my seeds in is pretty poorly insulated and gets quite drafty.  But I have to keep the seeds in that room because it is by far the most sunlight in any room in the house.  I have a hard time keeping my seeds warm enough, so I think this little number will do the trick.

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STEP 6- Buy seed starting trays or use what you have laying around.  I buy the trays that you fill with your own soil.  They are the perfect small size for a seedling and they normally come with a plastic lid (to act as a mini greenhouse to heat the seeds).  I don’t really like the little peat pellets that expand with water.  I have used them in the past but I think I get a much stronger plant using my own soil.  I mix together some organic potting mix and peat moss.  I do 3/4 potting mix to 1/4 peat moss.  You don’t have to be exact with it.  I just like adding the peat moss to loosen up the soil and make it easier on the developing root system.  Peat moss also helps with drainage so that you won’t over water the seedlings.

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STEP 7- Plant!  Yay!  As time comes on your calendar, start planting in your little pots.  I have started my celery and lemon balm in my trays.  The bigger pots on the bottom and the window box are experiments since I have this little greenhouse now.  I am starting some lettuces, basil, cilantro, and oregano.  Hopefully the greenhouse will let me get some early herbs and greens!

Phew!  Sorry for the super long and detailed post.  If you have any questions on anything, leave it in the comments below!

much love,

Heather

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