If you search the web, you will find a plethora of sites offering many articles, step by step instructions, growing charts, and tips, but will any one link or article give you all the simple answers you need to start seeds indoors? Probably not.
Think about this – there are millions of vegetable plants you may grow from seed in our world. How could anyone sum it all up in one fell swoop?
When I started growing vegetable plants from seeds, the desire to do so was sparked by the love of art packs from a particular seed company. The art sparked my interest and then I started to buy seed packets. I was interested in unique tomato plants and flashy hot pepper plants, rather than the traditional types I ate growing up on a farm. Maybe I got overloaded with the same types of tomatoes from when I was a kid, I don’t know, or maybe it is my love of art and creativity that got me into the different, unique, interesting varieties because they are like a work of art to me. A colorful purple tomato to me is cool. Or a pepper shaped like a UFO – that rocks! Plus you get to eat them and they taste delicious.
However, I have spent countless hours reading seed sowing books, reviewing growing charts, looking up frost dates from different sites and all of which seem to give a slightly different answer, and determining what supplies and seeds are best for my area of Connecticut, and then I spent hours putting my own guides together. I guess, in some ways, it is good that I am an organized person and an over-thinker! Maybe I looked at too much, because my head would spin. After all, you could just buy a pack of seeds and plop them into soil, and it would sprout – but would it be successful?
Today, I want to try to share some of my seed sowing considerations in a random casual fashion:
#1) Start small and pick easy to grow plants. So, what veggie plants are easy, what grows like weeds? Hmmm, well, that is a tricky question. One may say, well a pumpkin seed is sure to pop up from the soil or a cucumber seed, but do you like pumpkins, do you have space to grow pumpkins in containers or a garden? They sprawl out for miles (well, for many many feet) and so that may not be the best choice for you. And cucumbers, well, they vine up and down and all around, but they don’t like their roots disturbed, so even though they are easy to grow, they have considerations if you start seeds indoors and then transplant. In my opinion, some herbs are easy to grow, like parsley, or mixed lettuces seem easy, or some basils, but even if they are easy, they all have unique personalities to consider. For example, basils like warmth. If you put them out too early when cool in the early spring, they don’t like that and won’t flourish. Cherry tomatoes are easier than regular tomatoes in my experience. No matter what – you will get tons of cherry tomatoes from one plant – it is amazing! Parsley is easily and it likes a bit of the cooler weather, unlike the basils.
#2) Get the tools ready. Do you need a grow light? Many people will argue you do. And it does increase your success at sowing vegetable seeds indoors. But what is success? A perfectly straight upright seedling? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, I know many people who grow seedlings in seed trays set on their old fashioned heat radiators in their home, and the seedlings leaned towards the window for more sunlight, but they made it – and make it into their gardens. However, as you learn more, you start to consider the options of getting a lighting system so it increases your success and makes for healthier seedlings. As for myself, I have a greenhouse which provides sufficient lighting when the sun is out. In early spring, on many days, there are cloudy days. So far, I’ve gotten by just fine without grow lights. As I learn more, maybe I will get grow lights to add to my set up, but it is not going to be this season. Anyhow, what I’m getting at, is at a minimum, think about the tools you will need to sow seeds and start to pick up your supplies based on what you think you want to grow. BTW, I do use heat seedling mats to encourage germination of the seeds and to increase the start of healthy roots. This I have found helpful to invest in. That is a tool you may want to consider ordering now.
#3) Soil mix – This IS critical. First, for the ultra beginners, you should know that you can not sow your seeds in dirt from the ground for vegetable plants you need to start indoors in seedling trays ahead of the growing season. Believe it or not, when I offered seed kits last spring, one person thought you could put dirt from the ground into your seedling trays. They said my instruction sheet enlightened them and they had no idea dirt was a no-no. So, when you go out to get your soil for sowing seeds indoors, get bagged seedling mix or sterilized potting mix for patio pots. Either will be fine. The seedling mixes are finer than potting mixes, usually fresher since it is going to be seed sowing time soon, and perfect for tiny seeds to make contact with the seeds, etc. If you don’t want to deal with that, and want to sow seeds in the dirt, pick vegetable plants that you may directly sow into the ground after all chances of our spring frost and when the garden soil is workable. But you need to determine which plants you can sow directly into the ground, things like beets, for example. Some plants prefer to be directly sown into the ground. If you pick this option – remember, you have to prepare your garden area ahead as well.
#4) Timing. This is another critical factor. All plants grow at different rates. Some take longer and some are faster. They need a certain number of days or weeks before they produce fruit. If you start your seeds too soon, they will be outgrowing your starter pots, getting root bound, start to struggle for the moisture it needs, and even start flowering, which leads to fruit (and for ultra beginners, flowers are where the fruits are produced. I don’t mean to sound rude or condescending, but if you are new to the world of gardening and plants, and didn’t know this – don’t feel embarrassed. I didn’t either when I was a kid and I grew up on a farm!). So, say you sow your tomato seeds too soon, then they grow larger and larger indoors, and then you need to put them in a bigger pot, and then they get flowers and then, you want to put the plant outside but it is still too cold out – it may even freeze one night if the temperatures drop down. You could loose the flowers from the cold temps, now you will have no fruit. Potentially, all your seedling work is lost. The same goes for starting seeds too late. If you start too late, your plant will sprout, it will grow, and you will think, awesome, and, now I can put it into my gardens or containers in spring outdoors, fine, but then you wait and wait and wait after its been growing in the garden, and it is almost early fall and you still don’t have any peppers. You started the seeds too late indoors. Peppers take more weeks to produce their peppers for some varieties (as an example), they have a required longer growing season. Timing is a critical thing. Get yourself a seed sowing calendar, look it over, and count back the number of weeks it indicates on the seed packet (or inside the packet) as to when to sow your seeds indoors. You count back from your last frost date in spring which in Connecticut usually falls around mid-May. If you end up buying seeds from me or a seed kit, I already did all this timing homework for you in my charts and calendars based on the seeds I will have available for sale.
#5) Okay, what else is needed? I guess it is Determination + Enthusiasm. Last year, we had the start of the pandemic and lots of things were short in supply (including some foods), AND as we all know, people were home so they had time to start their own gardens. The enthusiasm to start sowing your own seeds for your own amazing vegetable gardens was very high, and many people came to me for advice and for seeds or seed kits. Everyone was so enthusiastic, I just loved it. The pandemic even created a seed shortage by seed companies because so many people were trying to grow their own for the very first time! But, growing plants from seeds is not like making brownies for the first time. You read the directions on the box, set it in the oven after mixing all as directed, and you are successful, and you eat the brownies. Sometimes in the plant world, there are factors out of our control. So, you read the directions, you sow the seeds, but then all of a sudden there is an issue after planting them outdoors and they’ve been growing for a while. Say it is blossom end rot or a tomato horn worm, and ack! You are bummed!! But if you are still determined, you will succeed. So you take on the challenge, fix it if possible, and then you reap the rewards of an amazing tomato harvest or pepper harvest. And it feels good, it tastes good, and it is right there at your finger tips. Oh, again, that makes me remember something, I think cherry tomatoes are easier to grow from seed than regular tomatoes, so that is another tip for beginners. Usually you get lots of cherry tomatoes! Like tons of them! Did I say that already?
Will those of you who gave tomato and pepper growing from seed last season give it a go again this season? Yes! I know you will. I know there are some of you that so enjoyed it, you are on board. But maybe not, maybe you thought all these considerations were too much, too many things to think about, and if you don’t like to water plants, talk to them, and treat them like a cherished pet dog that needs care, well, then maybe you won’t. That’s okay too. The choice is yours and if you decide to make that choice again this season, and get seeds and/or seed starting kits from me, I promise to be your cheerleader and encourage you as well as give you as much information as I can about how to start sowing seeds indoors based on my experience.
Container Crazy CT
Broad Brook/East Windsor, CT
For details about my seed offerings, visit http://www.WorkshopsCT.com.