Aren’t vegetable seeds beautiful? To think they all start out this way continually amazes me. As you can see, the seeds look rather large. If I recall correctly, these were covered with clay, which increases the size of the seed and makes them easier to hold and plant.
A neighbor taught me how to start seeds indoors and then transfer them outside into the vegetable garden. The advantage is you can get a head start on your growing season. By the time it’s warm enough to plant seeds outdoors, you will already have small plants to transplant outside and have your first harvest sooner. This means you might also have time for an additional planting and a second vegetable harvest!
For the purpose of this guide, I’ll share how I started peas and spinach indoors, transferred them outside, and had healthy plants producing food for me.
- Start Early: With any plant, find out the best time to plant. I’ll assume you’ve done that research and are ready to get started. Using plastic lunch bags, I sprouted seeds, which allowed me to know which seeds would germinate and which I should plant. Also, I purchased a two-tier grow light system with lights than can be raised on lowered depending on whether the plants are still seeds or tall or short. I bought that so I could start seeds indoors when it was still too cold outside. If you want a more economical solution, you can purchase lights and find ways to rig them so they hang above where you place your plants. Rigging them up on my own seemed like too much hassle. I prefer to spend my time in the dirt, so I decided it was worth it to pay for the two-tier lighting system, and I love it. I wish I’d bought it sooner!
- Find Your Containers: This year, I tested growing seedlings in both egg cartons and cow manure pots. I was curious if I’d see any difference. I noticed that seedlings grew really well in egg cartons but not in the manure pots. I’m not sure I know why they grew so well this way, but I’ll probably use egg cartons again. One drawback is that egg cartons are space hogs. So, keep in mind I also had success using the bottom of a plastic milk jug, which allows for more seedlings per square inch than the egg carton.
- Use Organic Seedling Mix: I planted seeds in organic seedling mix—better than garden soil—and ignored all the spacing requirements spelled out on the seed packet. I ignored them because I knew I’d be transplanting all of the seeds anyway, and I would space the vegetable seedlings out in the garden. Using a special seedling mix ensures your tender and nutrient-hungry seedlings get the nutrients they need in a less dense soil that allows water to drain.
- Gasp with Joy: When the seedlings started to come up, we were all so excited. I never tire of growing plants from seeds.
- Harden Off the Plants: Once you are ready to put the vegetable plants outside, you’ll need to “harden off” the plants. This just means you need to let the plants transition from the cushy environment of your house or greenhouse to the outdoors. To harden off my pea and spinach plants, I placed them outside for a few hours each day for several days. Advice on this varies. Let me just say I did not exactly follow any rule book, and my plants came out just fine. Once I had placed them outside for a few hours each day, I planted them in the garden on a not-so-bright day. My neighbor likes to plant transplants in the afternoon when it’s cooler, so they have more time to accustom themselves to the outdoor garden and its variable temperatures.
- Weed, Water, Tend: This is one of my favorite parts of gardening. Watering is, for me, one kind of meditation. The world seems quiet. I am both doing and not doing. The peaceful and repetitive work is calming and encourages me to notice the plants, the scents, the birds, and so on. Since I use raised garden beds, I do not have to worry too much about weeding. Recently, I removed about 20 baby maple trees from the garden. This is easy to do with any weed when you noticed and remove the weed early and when you are able to pull it from loose soil (as the dirt should be in your garden).
- Spacing Concerns: As your garden grows, it’s important to give your plants room to spread out and grow. However, it hurts me to remove perfectly good plants! Yesterday, I noticed radishes pushing up from the ground. This is the sign I use to know when it’s time to eat the radish. The other radishes were looking cramped, so I harvested ones that were ready and transferred the ones that weren’t to a new raised bed I’d set up. That way, I did not have to kill or give away perfectly fine plants. I know I’ll have to thin plants again, and so I am thinking it might be time for another raised bed or three, so I can transplant healthy plants to another location.
What are your tips for growing healthy vegetable plants in your garden?