Seed Starting

Martha Stewart
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Growing your own vegetables is not only healthier, but it’s also a great way to save money. Start your seeds early to jump start on the growing season—use our seed starting worksheet to schedule all of your plantings.

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Seeds That Can Be Started Early Indoors

  • Eggplants
  • Tomatoes
  • Leeks
  • Kale
  • Peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Onions
  • Snapdragons
  • Violas

Seeds That Can Be Planted is the Ground Now (Early March)

The seeds listed below can be planted in the ground now, usually in a protected environment such as a cold frame or an unheated hoop house, unless you are in a southern area where it is already warm enough to plant outside. Some plants prefer cool soil temperature to germinate, while others need the warming and cooling temperatures in the soil to break the seed dormancy.

  • Spinach
  • Greens mixes
  • Swiss chard
  • Larkspur
  • Sweet peas

Seed-Starting Methods

Cell Flats
Cell flats can be used for starting seeds in greenhouses. They are compact enough to make the most of available space and are ideal for transplanting outside.

Heat Mat
Heat mat is best for seeds that prefer warm soil to germinate, particularly cucurbit crops, peppers, and many flower varieties.

Grow Lights
Grow lights are a necessity if you want to produce healthy seedlings indoors. Most homes, even those with abundant southern exposure, rarely capture enough sunlight in the early spring to grow strong seedlings. Optimum light time for most seedlings is 14 hours, and this can be regulated with a simple timer (like those used with holiday lights).

Soil Block Maker
A soil block maker is a device that allows you to make blocks out of lightly compressed potting soil. (It’s best to use a high-nutrient potting soil). Soil blocks are a fantastic option for starting your seeds. The roots of the plant will grow to the edge of the block and stop, awaiting transplant; this means there is no transplant shock, no torn roots, and plants establish themselves quickly. Also, you’re not spending money on plastic trays and pots every year that can’t be recycled and will ultimately wind up in landfills. It’s best to use a high-nutrient potting soil.

To make a soil block, first moisten the soil to a “peanut-butter consistency,” push the block maker into the soil so the unit is full, then turn and lift out of the soil. Set the block maker into a tray and squeeze the trigger to release the blocks.

The soil to make the blocks is moist, and blocks should be kept that way. Be sure to use a mister or a very fine hose attachment when the blocks are newly constructed, since they do not yet have the root structure to provide support. As the seedlings grow, their roots will keep the blocks from eroding.

When To Transplant

Every type of vegetable or flower takes a different amount of time to get ready for planting in the ground. Some flowers take much longer to reach a healthy transplant size than vegetables. Tomatoes generally require weeks before they are ready to be transplanted outside, while Peppers take 10 to 12 weeks.

It is important to remember that soil temperature is just as important as air temperature. The air can feel warm and the danger of frost may have passed, but if the soil temperature has not warmed up enough, it will shock the transplants. The best time for seeds to go into the ground is after the danger of frost has passed in your area and once the soil temperature has warmed to the recommended temperature (such information can be found on the back of most seed packets).

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