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So, You Wanna Grow Tomatoes, Huh? Part 6

Starting From Seeds



(From our garden, left to right: Kentucky wonder pole beans with green onion; serrano peppers and cherry tomatoes.)


 

Welcome back, folks! In this post, we delve into the world of starting your vegetable garden from seeds. This chapter explores important aspects such as seed selection, indoor seed starting, transplanting seedlings, and the process of hardening them off. So, let's dive right in without too much flair and get you on the path to successful seed starting.


So, why would we want to start our garden off from seeds, as opposed to running down to the local gardening outlet and purchasing some tomato plants, for instance, that are all ready to go? Starting from seeds is an economical choice that won't break the bank. Purchasing a packet of seeds is a pocket-friendly option, providing numerous seeds that allow you to grow multiple plants at a fraction of the cost compared to buying individual seedlings. There's plenty of other reasons why we prefer this method:



  • Wide Variety: Oh, the delightful range of options when you start from seeds! Seed catalogs and online sources offer an extensive selection of unique and heirloom varieties that may not be available as seedlings at nurseries or garden centers. You can explore a diverse array of flavors, colors, shapes, and sizes to suit your taste and preferences.

  • Greater Control: Starting from seeds empowers you with complete control over the entire growth process. You can ensure that your plants are raised organically and with care, right from the early stages to harvest. By monitoring and addressing any issues or diseases early on, you can promote healthier and thriving plants.

  • Extended Growing Season: Starting seeds indoors grants you the luxury of an extended growing season. By giving your plants a head start indoors, you can transplant them outdoors earlier than if you were to wait for established seedlings. This translates to a longer period of enjoying fresh homegrown vegetables.

  • Learning and Satisfaction: Starting from seeds provides a valuable opportunity to learn and understand the entire lifecycle of a plant. Witnessing the journey from seed germination to maturity is an immensely satisfying and rewarding experience. It cultivates a sense of accomplishment and connection with your garden, as you nurture and witness your seeds transform into flourishing plants.

  • Adaptability: Growing from seeds allows you to select varieties that are well-suited to your specific climate and growing conditions. You can choose plants that thrive in your region's climate, soil type, and possess traits such as pest and disease resistance. This adaptability increases the likelihood of successful growth and a bountiful harvest.

  • Sharing and Community: Starting from seeds often leads to an abundance of seedlings. This presents an opportunity to share the joy of gardening with others. Sharing your surplus plants with friends, family, or fellow gardeners fosters a sense of community, as you spread the love and knowledge of growing your own food.

Seed Selection

Choosing the right seeds is essential for a successful vegetable garden. We have two primary options: hybrid and heirloom varieties. Hybrids offer a combination of desirable traits, while heirlooms are known for their historical significance and unique characteristics.


Consider your local climate and soil conditions when selecting seeds. Each plant has specific preferences, and it's crucial to choose varieties that will thrive in your specific region. Take into account factors such as temperature, humidity, and sunlight requirements to ensure the best chances of success.


Hybrid varieties bring together the best qualities from different plants, like a culinary fusion of flavors. They are carefully bred to exhibit improved disease resistance, higher yields, or specific characteristics that appeal to gardeners. On the other hand, heirloom varieties are like treasures passed down through generations, carrying a rich history and distinct characteristics. They often have unique flavors and traits that you won't find in hybrids. And, this is the most important part, you can harvest your seeds from heirloom plants and use them for the next season of your garden. You just can't do that with most hybrids.


When making your seed selections, consider your personal preferences, desired harvests, and the space available in your garden. Take a stroll through the seed catalogs or visit your local garden center to explore the vast array of options. Reading reviews or seeking recommendations from experienced gardeners can also help you make informed choices.


Remember, the goal is to choose seeds that align with your gardening goals and local conditions. Whether you opt for hybrids or heirlooms, the key is to enjoy the process and cultivate a garden that brings you joy and bountiful harvests.


Indoor Seed Starting

Starting seeds indoors gives your plants a head start and increases your chances of success. When it comes to containers, you have various options, including seed trays or recycled materials like yogurt cups or egg cartons. Ensure that whatever container you choose has proper drainage holes to prevent waterlogging.

Creating a suitable soil mix is key. Opt for a light and well-draining blend using components like peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. Alternatively, you can find pre-mixed seed starting soil at your local garden center.


Lighting is crucial for healthy seedling growth. Place your trays or pots in a sunny location near a window or use artificial grow lights. Adjust the height of the lights as the seedlings grow to maintain an appropriate distance.


Pay attention to temperature and moisture requirements. Different seeds have specific preferences, so aim to keep the soil consistently moist without overwatering. Maintain a warm and comfortable environment for optimal germination and growth. You can refer to this table to give you an idea using some common vegetable plants:


Vegetable

Temperature Range

Moisture Requirements

Beans

70-85 ° F

Moist but not waterlogged

Carrots

60-75 ° F

Evenly moist

Cucumbers

70-90 ° F

Evenly moist

Lettuce

60-70 ° F

Evenly moist

Peppers

70-85 ° F

Evenly moist

Radishes

50-70 ° F

Evenly moist

Spinach

50-70 ° F

Evenly moist

Squash

70-90 ° F

Evenly moist

Tomatoes

70-85 ° F

Evenly moist

Zucchini

70-90 ° F

Evenly moist


Transplanting Seedlings into the Garden

When it's time to move your indoor seedlings outdoors, some considerations are essential. Take into account your local climate and the recommended planting dates for each vegetable. This is where that Farmer's Almanac comes in handy, folks. Avoid subjecting your tender seedlings to unfavorable weather conditions, like a late frost for instance.

Prepare your garden bed by removing weeds, loosening the soil, and incorporating organic matter or compost. This helps provide a welcoming environment for your seedlings, similar to preparing the spare bedroom into a comfortable space for in-laws.

Gently remove the seedlings from their containers, being careful not to damage the delicate roots. Plant them in the garden bed, ensuring they are spaced appropriately and at the correct depth. Pat the soil gently around the seedlings to secure them in their new home.



Here's another handy table to get an idea of what your row spacing and planting depth should be for the same common varieties detailed above:


Vegetable

Row Spacing

Planting Depth

Beans

18-24 inches

1-2 inches

Carrots

12-18 inches

1/4 - 1/2 inch

Cucumbers

36-48 inches

1 inch

Lettuce

12-18 inches

1/4 - 1/2 inch

Peppers

18-24 inches

1/4 - 1/2 inch

Radishes

2-4 inches

1/2 inch

Spinach

12-18 inches

1/2 inch

Squash

36-48 inches

1-2 inches

Tomatoes

24-36 inches

1/4 - 1/2 inch

Zucchini

36-48 inches

1-2 inches


Hardening Off Seedlings

Before fully exposing your seedlings to the outdoor environment, it's crucial to harden them off gradually. This process helps acclimate the seedlings to the outdoor conditions, reducing the risk of transplant shock.

Start by exposing the seedlings to outdoor conditions for short periods in a sheltered spot. Over time, increase their exposure to sunlight, wind, and temperature variations. This gradual transition prepares them for the challenges of the garden, much like easing a child into new experiences.

Protect your seedlings from pests and adverse weather conditions. Use row covers or temporary shelters to shield them when necessary. Gradually reduce watering to encourage strong root development and self-sufficiency.


One of the items we have found to be very effective at minimizing and practically eliminating the issue of pests getting to our vegetables are these fruit protection bags. They are these small, white netting bags with drawstrings that you can put around your vegetable or fruit clusters to prevent insects and other pests from getting to them. As our tomatoes were just beginning to form, we found one in the cluster that had been devestated by insects. We immediately deployed these little bags to stop any more losses. Since they are mesh, they are completely breathable, allow the sunshine in as well as moisture. And they are delicate enough to use on your more fragile plants. We highly recommend these.


So, that's it. Starting your vegetable garden from seeds opens up a world of possibilities. By carefully selecting seeds, providing optimal indoor conditions, transplanting seedlings with care, and hardening them off gradually, you're on your way to a successful gardening journey. We hope that with this newfound knowledge, it'll help to embrace the excitement of growing your own vegetables from scratch, as it were. Happy gardening, y'all!







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