Do you want to learn how to grow from seed?
Even though it’s still too cold to plant vegetables outside, you can get started indoors. Here on the west coast our last frost date is March 28 so you want to get some of your seeds started soon. That way you will have seedlings ready to go outside when the weather starts to warm. The first vegetable seeds can go out when its around 5C but most like it a bit warmer than that. That’s why planting cool season crops such as peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard greens, pac choi and parsley are done now. You want your cool season crops to go in the garden in March so you will be able to harvest them before the first warm spell. You see, cool season crops do not like the heat. Have you ever had your lettuce or cilantro plants suddenly shoot up in the center and go to flower? This is called bolting and happens when a sudden increase of temperature occurs. It’s the plant’s response to temperature and the plant reacts by setting its flowers and going to seed.
So how do you get started inside?
Think about what cool season crops you would like to grow. Plan to grow what your family likes to eat. Find a place to grow your plants inside. Perhaps you have a mini greenhouse or a bright windowsill to grow plants on. The key to growing successful seedlings in the home is having enough light. Your plants will need a good source of light to keep them from getting leggy. If you don’t have enough light think about investing in a grow light that can be suspended over your plants. If you have a mini greenhouse all you will need are some clean pots to get started. Try using recycled muffin or salad containers for seed growing but don’t forget to add drainage holes to the bottom.
The key to successful seedlings is starting with clean containers and a good seed starting mix. Once you have your containers ready to go, add a seed starting mix to them. Do not use garden soil as it can contain pests and disease. Garden soil is also too heavy and tiny seeds will struggle to germinate.
Now you are ready to plant!
Fill your containers with seed starter mix. What’s next? Moisten your soil with water before planting your seeds. If you water after the seeds are planted you risk washing the seeds around and any spacing you carefully planned will be undone.
Once your soil is moist grab a plant label and write the name of your seed and date on it. Place the label in the container before sowing your seeds. Decide how many plants you want for the garden. Don’t plant the whole seed package as that could be way too many plants. For example, if you are planting spinach, think about where it will go outside. How much room do you have allotted for it? Read your seed package and look at how far apart you will be planting your seedlings. This will help you decide how many seeds to plant. If you have too many plants you can always find a friend to take some. People love free plants. Place the seeds on the top of the soil and lightly cover with a thin layer of soil. Seeds are usually planted 2-3 times their size deep. Tiny seeds need a tiny amount of soil on top. You don’t want tiny seeds to struggle to the top.
When will my plants grow?
Each seed takes a certain amount of days to emerge from the soil. This is called germination. For example, peas germinate in less than 5 days but tomatoes make take up to ten days. Read your seed packages for each seed germination time. Its important to water your seeds carefully in the beginning. You want the soil moist but not sopping wet. If its too wet it can lead to fungal diseases such as damping off. After a bit of practice you will be able to tell if the soil needs moisture. I use a small watering can and try to water from the bottom and let the water wick up. You can place your planting containers in what is called a no-hole tray so watering from below is made easier.
When do I move my plants outside?
Your plants will be able to be transplanted outside once all signs of frost have past. Each plant has a certain temperature requirement. Here on the west coast most planting of cool season crops happens from mid-March to mid April. From mid May to early June warm season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, beans and corn can safely be planted outside. Be sure to harden off your plants by gradually introducing them to short times outside, first in the shade and gradually increasing the amount of sunlight they receive.