Growing your own vegetables is an excellent way to enjoy delicious fresh produce, limit the chemicals in your family’s diet, and save money. Planting seeds indoors early helps you get a head start on the growing season, gives you many more plant varieties to choose from, and saves you even more cash. You can buy enough seeds to grow 10 to 20 heirloom tomato plants for the same price as 1 seedling! This simple how-to guide will help you choose which seeds to plant, get the supplies needed, and grow strong seedlings. You’ll quickly be on your way to filling your table with yummy vegetables come harvest time. Read more to get started on the road to a bountiful garden.
The Best Seeds for Growing Indoors
The surest road to success with growing seed indoors is to plant vegetables that are easy to germinate and will transplant well when the time comes. Organic Gardening Magazine suggests the following “sure bets”: basil, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, leeks, lettuce, onions, peppers, and tomatoes.
Supplies for Starting Seeds Indoors
Like with any project, the right materials can make all the difference for your vegetable seedlings. Here are the basic supplies that you will need:
- Containers. There is a huge range of choices for containers to grow your seedlings in. Some gardeners prefer flats, while others choose peat pots, paper pots, or even homemade options such as egg cartons. Here is a breakdown of container types, including the pros and cons.
- Germination Medium and Potting Mix. When you first plant your seeds, they will need to be in a material that allows them the right amount of moisture and air. Also, make sure they have plenty of room to grow. Perlite, compost, peat moss or milled sphagnum moss all make good environments for germination. You don’t need to worry about fertilizer at this point.
You will need to transplant your seedlings into containers with potting mix just after they have grown their first set of true leaves. To do this, you can buy pre-mixed potting mix, or make your own. Organic Gardening Magazine recommends a potting mix that is made up of 1 to 2 parts of good-quality garden soil, 1 part builder’s sand or perlite, and 1 part compost.
- Lights. Seedlings grow very rapidly, which means that they need lots of bright light for photosynthesis. Seedlings that don’t get at least 14 hours of bright light per day may not survive transplant. Grow lights are necessary in most cases to make sure your seedlings get the light they need. Choose lights that are specifically made for growing plants, keep them clean and free of dust, and rotate the positions of the seedlings every few days to ensure that they all receive adequate light (the ends of light tubes typically emit weaker light).
- Heating Mats.
Most vegetable seeds will sprout more quickly in soil with a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. To speed up sprouting, you can buy heating mats that are designed for plant germination, and which basically look like plastic heating pads. Seedlings prefer cooler soil, so remove the heating mats once the seeds have sprouted.
- Labels. Labels are a very basic and easy-to-forget component of growing indoors. Overlook this step, and you will regret it! No matter how much it may seem like you will be able to remember what you planted in which spot, plant rotation and the passing of time will trip you up. Use toothpicks and waterproof tape to clearly label your seedlings (see photo above), or buy ready-made plant labels.
- Fertilizer. Once your seedlings have grown their first true leaves, they will need added nutrients to grow strong and healthy. A good compost mixed into your potting soil will nourish your seedlings. If you are using a nutrient-poor potting mixture, you will need to supplement it with fertilizer. Organic Gardening Magazine offers these instructions for feeding seedlings with organic fertilizer.
For more information, check out this detailed article on starting seeds indoors.
When to Start Seeds Indoors
When it comes to growing seeds indoors, timing is everything. You want your seedlings to be ready for transplanting right when the conditions outside are ideal. This will help you get a head start on the growing season without losing seedlings to frost.
The first step to knowing when to plant seeds indoors is finding out which USDA hardiness zone you live in. Hardiness zones vary depending on the climate where you live, and can help you estimate when the spring’s last frost will be. Click here to learn about hardiness zones, and to find out which zone you live in.
The second step for scheduling your planting is to learn about the vegetables you will be growing. The length of time between planting seeds indoors and transplanting seedlings into your garden outside will be different for each vegetable. For example, tomatoes and onions need 6 to 8 weeks to germinate and grow into transplantable seedlings. Meanwhile, cauliflower only needs 4 to 6 weeks. The ideal time to transplant seedlings into your garden also varies from vegetable to vegetable relative to the last frost date for the hardiness zone you live in. To keep things nice and simple, Organic Gardening Magazine made this handy seed-starting chart that has the information you need for the most popular vegetables. Just print out the chart, fill it in, and you’re good to go!