Starting your own vegetable seeds indoors is a great way to save some money and grow varieties you can’t find in the garden centers. You need seeds, a good quality germinating soil mix, proper-sized growing containers and some bright light.
In our area, we have a very short growing season, so we have to start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant indoors. Squash, melons and cucumbers can be seeded directly into the garden but do better started indoors. These are frost sensitive plants so they can’t be planted out until the end of May.
Peppers need to be started around March 15 while tomatoes and eggplant need to be started at the end of March. Cucumbers and squash need to be started in late April. Other vegetables can also be started during March but many of them will do fine if they are seeded directly into the garden, they will just take longer to grow. Each seed will have different planting and growing needs so read the seed envelope carefully.
Seedlings need a soil mix that doesn’t hold excess water and doesn’t crust over. Buy a good quality potting or seed germination mix and moisten it just before you plant. Try to use mixes that are light on peat moss. When peat moss dries out, it is very difficult to get wet again; water will just run off it and not soak in. Try to find mixes with coir fiber in them instead. Coir is a sustainable product of coconut harvesting and is not hydrophilic like peat.
I like to use 4-inch plastic pots for starting seeds because they are space efficient under my lights. You can use large paper cups or cottage cheese cartons with holes punched in the bottoms so they drain well. Don’t use eggshells or egg cartons to start seeds. They are too small for a good root development and the roots are easily damaged when it comes planting time. Because squash, melons and cucumbers don’t like their roots disturbed during planting, use 3- to 4-inch coir fiber pots to plant in and then just set the plant and its pot into the soil at planting time. The pots are available at the independent garden centers. They can be set in plant flats or on old cookie sheets to catch excess water.
Seedlings need about 14 hours of direct, intense light to grow properly. You can’t get this on a window sill, even a south-facing one. Besides window sills can get too cold at night. I use two, 4-foot-long LED shop lights on each level of my four-shelf starting rack. The new LED lights are much brighter and cooler than fluorescent tubes. The lights are suspended on chains about 2 inches above the plants and raised as the plants grow. I link all the lights together on a timer set to run the lights for 14 hours a day. The rack is in our furnace room which provides the necessary extra heat for good germination.
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