This week I started a bunch of seeds for spring and summer: kale (three kinds!), Swiss chard, lettuce, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, basil, and a few others. But since it’s not too exciting to share a bunch of pictures of dirt with you, I thought I’d write a post about spring seed starting in general. So…
Why use seeds?
Starting with transplants from your local nursery is certainly easier than using seeds, so why bother with them? Well, first of all, seeds are much cheaper than buying transplants. At my local nursery, a pack of 6 lettuce plants is about $3. A pack of heirloom seeds is $2.50 and you can definitely get more than 6 plants out of them. And the heirloom thing? Well, that’s another reason. Even when nurseries stock heirloom plants, it’s usually only a limited amount–with seeds, the possibilities are endless. Some of my favorite websites for ordering seeds are:
When should you start your seeds?
In the spring, the most important thing to know is when your area’s average last frost date is. Google “average last frost date + your town’s name” or use this map from Farmers’ Almanac.
Now that you know your area’s average last frost date, you need to look at your seed packets and see how many weeks before the frost date they need to be started. Although it’s best go to by what your seed packets say, here’s a brief rundown of seeds you’d start in the spring:
- Basil – Indoors, 4 weeks before last frost
- Beans – Sow directly in garden, immediately after last frost
- Beets – Sow directly in garden, 3 weeks before last frost
- Broccoli – Indoors, 12 weeks before last frost
- Cabbage – Indoors, 12 weeks before last frost
- Carrots – Indoors, 3 weeks before last frost
- Cauliflower – Indoors, 10 weeks before last frost
- Chard – Indoors, 7 weeks before last frost
- Corn – Sow directly in garden, after last frost
- Eggplant – Indoors, 7 weeks before last frost
- Lettuce – Indoors, 7 weeks before last frost
- Melon – Indoors or in garden, immediately after last frost
- Onions – Indoors, 12 weeks before last frost (if starting with seeds, not sets)
- Parsley – Indoors, 12 weeks before last frost
- Peas – Sow directly in garden, 5 weeks before last frost
- Peppers – Indoors, 7 weeks before last frost
- Radishes – Sow directly in garden, 3 weeks before last frost
- Tomatoes – Indoors, 6 weeks before last frost
- Winter Squash – Indoors or in garden, 2 weeks after last frost
- Zucchini – Indoors, 2 weeks before last frost
It depends. If you have a grow light or a sunny window, you can start your seeds indoors. But not all seeds are suited to being started that way. Carrots, radishes, and other root vegetables don’t transplant well; they need to be started directly in the ground. I’ve found that other plants that don’t transplant well (like beans and chard) can be started in biodegradable (either peat, cow pots, or newspaper) containers because when you plant these, roots don’t get disturbed.
Do you need any special equipment for starting seeds?
Nope, not if you have a sunny windowsill. You can use empty yogurt or pudding containers with holes poked in the bottom for drainage or make pots out of newspaper if you don’t want to buy them.
If you’re starting a lot of seeds, you might want to invest in a few items beyond empty yogurt cups. Here’s what I use for my seed starting:
- Seed-starting Flats (Burpee 72-Cell Plant 5 Trays)
- Seed-starting Soil–not potting mix! (I’m using Hoffman 30103 Seed Starter Soil and Hydrofarm JS81PR Jumpstart 81-Pellet Indoor Seed Start Greenhouse Refills, but I prefer the loose soil to the pellets, which seem to dry out too easily)
- Heat Mat for summer plants like eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes (Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat)
- Grow lights (I was using an Aerogarden, but just got the Hydrofarm JSV4 4-Foot Jump Start T5 Grow Light System, which I love and wish I had gotten much sooner!)
- Peat pots (Plantation 2-1/4 Round Peat Pot)
Plants like kale, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli can be set outside just prior to the last frost date, as they’re able to withstand cooler temperatures. Everything else should be transplanted after the last frost date for your area. And before transplanting any seedlings, be sure to harden them off first–set them outside for an increasing number of hours each day for about a week. This will help them acclimate to being outside.