With Winter Solstice and the holidays over and the days beginning to lengthen, your inbox and mailbox may be overflowing with yard, garden, and seed catalogues. The gardener inside of each of us begins to awaken as well. Visions of sugar plum fairies are replaced with visions of straight garden rows and plants exploding with vegetable and fruit offerings, as fingers twitch for the ‘warm enough’ early spring days when we can once again greet our friend, the soil.
Bringing your dream garden to reality requires more than enthusiasm and a collection of seed catalogues, however. It requires developing a plan of attack; an understanding of which vegetables you want to harvest and of when to sow seeds or plant seedlings in the soil so that they grow and mature on schedule.
Whether planting vegetable starts or beginning from seed, there is an optimal time frame during which each plant can be started and an optimal time frame during which each plant should be ready for harvest.
Each plant has its own unique time window, and they can be quite broad (months) or sometimes quite narrow (weeks). Outside of these windows, likelihood of failure increases.
Growing your own starts from seed can offer many benefits over purchasing starts. Starting from seed enables you to grow the specific variety of a vegetable that you want, rather than sticking to a smaller selection that nurseries offer in bulk.
Where growing seasons are short, starting your own seed indoors enables you to effectively lengthen the growing season. Even if you’re only gaining a few weeks, it can make all the difference in the harvest schedule, which is generally ended by the frosts of fall.
If you want to grow a lot of plants, starting from seed is economically more efficient, where you can acquire hundreds of seeds for a few dollars, versus a single start.
To increase your seed pool while limiting costs further, you can explore seed sharing with friends.
Finally, growing from seed allows you to lessen potential impacts from weather risks and pests.
Once you’ve decided to start your own plants from seeds, the collection of seed catalogues that arrived in the fall become a wealth of information. Reading them will tell you which are easy to start indoors, which prefer direct-sowing outside in the garden, and importantly, the duration of time from germination to harvest.
When ordering seeds, consider the limitations of your garden space verses the needs of each plant, your personal preferences and tastes for veggies, and whether the seeds you seek to grow should be started indoors, or seeded directly into the garden.
Common ‘indoor start’ vegetables include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, lettuce, peppers, pumpkins, swiss chard, tomatoes, and watermelon, while common direct sow plants include beets, carrots, corn garlic, onions, peas parsnips, potatoes, radishes, and squash.
There are multiple online resources to help the curious discover the optimal planting window (whether from seed or starts) for your garden zone, a simple web query of “when to start vegetables from seed” will reveal many, along with practical advice about container selection, soil, feeding, and watering requirements. Almanac.com offers a free, easy to use planting calendar to assist gardeners in determining, based on their location, the best dates for planting vegetables and fruits, considering the applicable frost dates for a given area.
Starting plants from seeds isn’t without risk, however, and common mistakes can be avoided with sufficient planning and awareness. Starting plants too early, such that they are ready for transplant before outdoor conditions are optimal, can result in leggy, weak plants.
You’ll also need to ensure you have the proper indoor lighting conditions (essentially, fluorescent lights), growing medium, and containers, and that you monitor temperature moisture conditions. Seeds need to be warm and moist to germinate. Seed packages also contain a wealth of information and their advice should not be ignored.
Whether you are a new gardener or you are a seasoned green thumb, beginning to think about your garden goals now can go a long way toward a healthy and abundant harvest.