The itch to start planting seeds for the coming season’s vegetable garden seems to be ever present during this mild winter. While it’s too soon to start mucking about in the garden – you don’t want to compact your soils structure – it is time to start planting seeds inside.
Why start seeds inside at all? Many of our favorite garden vegetables – tomatoes, cucumbers, and squashes to name a few – have a long growing season. Here in Buffalo we have a relatively short period of time when there shouldn’t be freezing weather. Our growing season lasts from May to October, just six months. By starting seeds inside we are able to give our gardens a jump-start with strong, healthy plants.
Seeds need four things to grow well: light, warmth, well draining soil and water. When starting seeds at home, first find a warm sunny location like a south facing windowsill. If you don’t have a space that receives sunlight, you may need to invest in grow lights to produce enough light for your seedlings to thrive.
Seeds like nice warm conditions to germinate. If you look at the growing conditions on a seed packet you’ll see the optimal temperature for germination is higher then optimal temperature for growing. So, make sure the space you’ve chosen to start seeds is nice and warm.
The next thing to consider is the soil your seeds will be growing in. Soil mixes made for germination are best. They provide an environment that stays moist but allows excess water to drain away. This is perfect for seeds to germinate and young plants to grow.
Adequate moisture is key for starting seeds; never let the soil around germinating seeds dry out. Covering your pots or trays with a clear plastic dome is a good way to retain moisture and keep your seeds damp when they are germinating. Once you see little green leaves poking out of the soil, it’s time to remove the plastic cover. Some seeds will germinate best if soaked in water for 6-12 hours before planting. The seed package should have this information.
Air movement around your germinated seedlings is important. This will help strengthen the young plant stems. If your seed starting area does not have much airflow you can gently brush your hand across the tops of you plants a few times a day. This is a good time to take a close look at your little plants and see how they have grown! It could also be a good job for a responsible young person in your house.
What size pots should you start seeds in? In general, something about the size of a 6-pack cell is a good place to start (about 1.5 x 1 x 3 inches). There is a reason we buy many of our vegetable seedlings in 6-packs! Some plants benefit from being transplanted to a bigger sized pot before being planted outside in the garden. Think tomatoes, eggplants and papers. A good size for this second pot is something between 3-4 inches in diameter.