While winter wails outside, vegetable gardeners can get a jump on the growing season by starting seeds indoors. A careful gardener can extend production by starting seeds and planting seedlings after the danger of frost.
The classic candidates for indoor starting are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, melons and both winter and summer squash.
For best results, begin with packaged seeds grown for the current season. Basic equipment includes:
- Shallow, well-draining containers
- Growing medium such as soilless potting mix
- A plastic cover
- Warmth for germination
- Light for growth
While seeds can be started in garden soil, soilless potting mix is preferred because it is lightweight, well-draining and water-retentive.
In addition to seeds, The Home Depot sells a variety of growing kits to help you master this gardening skill. Growing kits include trays, pots, potting plugs, grow lights and humidity domes. Follow this step-by-step Garden Club guide for using a growing kit.
Just like following a recipe is essential to cooking, reading a seed packet will outline the information you need to get started. Check the “days to germinate” and add the “days to maturity.” Working with your area’s last frost date, use this sum and count backward to get the ideal date to begin planting. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service to determine your area’s average date of last frost.
TO START SEEDS INDOORS:
- Pour soilless mix into a bucket and dampen with warm water.
- Place pots in trays and fill with mix. Tamp down to eliminate air pockets, and top off with mix, to within a ¼ inch of the rim.
- Plant seeds to the proper depth; the tip of an eraser can help press small seeds into soil. Count on three seeds per pot; larger seeds can be planted two per pot.
- Label containers and trays with the variety of seed and the date of planting.
- Cover tray with a humidity dome or a plastic bag.
- Warm temperatures help the seeds germinate. Look around your home and consider whether the top of a refrigerator or a radiator could be used. Special heating mats will provide a consistent temperature.
- When seedlings emerge from the soil, slightly vent the bag or dome. When the second set of leaves emerge — known as true leaves — remove the cover and nourish the seedlings with an all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer added to the watering tray once a week.
- After germination, seedlings need light. A sunny window will work, but grow lights will offer a consistent source.
After a few weeks, some plants like tomatoes may require transplanting into larger pots before being moved to the garden. And all young plants will need to be “hardened off” or acclimated to the outdoors. Follow this Garden Club guide for successful transplanting.
Lastly, consider record-keeping through journaling, either high-tech or low-tech. Making note of plant varieties that thrive or fail, dates of last frost, and any other variables that lead to gardening success can be documented to build your gardening knowledge.
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