You can certainly buy your plant starts in the spring from your local greenhouse or farmers market. But your selection is limited by what plants are available commercially. When you grow your garden plants from seed, you’ll encounter almost no limit to what varieties you can choose.
Where to Get Seeds
There are many options for purchasing seeds, including online sources, printed seed catalogs and your local garden center. Take the time to look for small, locally owned seed companies. Purchasing these businesses supports your local economy, of course. But you’ll also be able to buy locally adapted seeds, which will perform the best in your climate.
If you are lucky enough to have a seed library in your community, be sure to stop in and check out some seeds. Seed libraries are an amazing resource for seeds, gardening knowledge and community building.
When to Start Seeds
Before you even gather your supplies for planting, you need to determine when is the best time to start your seeds. This can easily be done once you know the last frost date in your area. Many of our seeds need to be started six to eight weeks before the last frost date, others at four to six weeks before and some right around this date.
You’ll find this information on the back of your seed packets. Simply take your late frost date and subtract the appropriate amount of time. Then you’ll have the best dates for starting those seeds indoors.
Gather Your Supplies
In addition to our seeds, we’ll also need containers and soil. There are a number of options for containers to start our seeds in. I prefer planting cell trays. They provide just enough space to get the plants established, and they typically come with a clear plastic humidity dome, turning the seed starting tray into a mini greenhouse.
At Small House Farm, we typically purchase a pre-made seed starting mix, mostly coconut coir with a small amount of organic fertilizer. Coconut coir and peat moss are the most common seed starting mediums. They’re light, airy and easy for the young seedlings to push through when they sprout.
Many of the crops that need to be started early—such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants—will germinate best at soil temperatures of 75 degrees F or higher. To accomplish this, you’ll need to use heat mats placed beneath your planting trays. Alternatively, you could place your seed trays on a radiator or even the top of your refrigerator to warm your soil.
Your young plants will also need light to grow. There are many types of grow lights available on the market, and the cost varies widely. At Small House Farm, we simply use shop lights, as they fit our budget and have worked well for us.
Let’s Get Planting!
Premoisten your seed starting mix, then plant your seeds at a depth of approximately 1 1/2 times the width of the seed. Water thoroughly, cover the tray with your humidity dome and place the seeds on the heat mats, under lights.
Ensure the soil stays moist while you wait for germination. Some seeds may take up to 14 days to germinate, so stay patient!
Once the seeds have sprouted, you can remove the humidity dome. After your young plants have developed two sets of true leaves, it’s time to transplant them into larger containers. Use an organic potting soil or a mixture of compost and top soil that you can blend at home. Continue to keep the plants under lights and well-watered.
When the risk of frost passes and the soil reaches a temperature that your plants can tolerate, it’s time to transplant your plants out into the garden.