Garden Update | All About Spring Seed Starting

By Kiersten | Last Updated: March 25, 2014

Plants on Windowsill

Spring Seed Starting
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

Plants on Windowsill
Where should you start your seeds?

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:

Plants Under Grow Light
When can you transplant your seedlings?

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.

About Kiersten

Kiersten is the founder and editor of Oh My Veggies.

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Man, I wish I had the room for all of that stuff to do seedlings. Just not a big enough space for that stuff so I shall envy you from afar on that one. Do you have any gnat issues with having those indoors? We’ve had to throw away more than one herb plants in our day because of that. If so, any tips to get rid of them?

It doesn’t take a lot of space–really! The grow light looks huge, but it’s not.

Knock on wood, we don’t have any issues with gnats yet. Last year I started the seeds on the porch and we had MAAAAJOR spider mite issues. I found out it was from the soil. If you use a soilless, sterile mix, you won’t be bringing in bug eggs and other nasties with the dirt. Alternately, you can use regular potting mix but bake it in the oven (YES REALLY!) or freeze it to kill anything that’s in it before you use it.

I’ve had no success the few times I tried seeds, so I prefer to buy plants from the nursery. But one day when I own my own house, I hope to take another crack! There is something satisfying about starting from scratch.

My fingers are crossed that mine work out this year! This is the first time I’ve started such a large amount of seeds all at once and I’ve had some mold issues. If they don’t work out, I might be heading to the nursery this year too. 🙂

I’m bookmarking this! We tried doing seeds last year and failed and this year, we’re just too lazy. I think if we plant anything this season (which we need to do soon if we are), it’ll be from starts. I *am* excited because if we get a move on things we might be planting blackberry bushes too!

I think I’ve learned my lesson after this year and know that there are certain things I won’t try again–like leeks and onions, which just don’t want to work for me. I’m sure there’s got to be something that will grow well for you! Have you tried lettuce or greens? Arugula is pretty easy!

Thanks for all these great tips! I’ve always wanted to grow my own stuff & while I don’t have the space this year {we have lots of bushes & stuff & very, very little dirt}, by this time next year our backyard will be redone & I can start using these tips! Pinned this so I can use ’em then! 🙂

Our soil is terrible, so I use raised beds for my garden. I love it because I never have to weed! I would love to have a huuuuuge garden in the backyard, but unless I want to grow tobacco, I don’t think it’s going to work here!

Yeah, we have cement, rocks, and a little bit of grass that is dead 90% of the year. Gotta love living in the desert! But we do have a tiny little perimeter of dirt that probably isn’t even any good to use. lol I’ll probably do the raised beds too then. 🙂

I use an organic seed starting mix (I think it’s soilless?) if I’m starting the seeds in pots. In the garden, I use Mel’s mix which is a combination of vermiculite, peat, and compost. But some garden centers sell that mix pre-made since so many people do square foot gardening now.

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