I’ve been gardening since as far back as I can remember, my actual earliest memory ever is of working out in the yard with my dad. I was attempting to help him harvest carrots, but when I pulled up on my carrot the top broke off, and when I flipped it over to look at it, saw that it was completely full of bugs (apparently they had eaten through the carrot part). I screamed, threw it across the yard, and ran inside. Luckily, that experience didn’t mar my future gardening endeavors, and I got over it as quickly as most three year-olds do. Once we moved to our new house when I was about 3 and a half, each of us three kids got to pick a seed we wanted to start and those three veggies would be the first harvest from the new garden. I planted a radish, my sister planted a carrot, and I can’t remember what my little brother planted. A melon maybe? I don’t know. But the only one that came up was my radish, and I could hardly believe that this little speck I dropped in the ground actually turned into something. As I got bigger I attributed this to my green thumb, but having worked with seeds and plants for many years, I know that this was most definitely because radishes are pretty much the easiest things to grow from seed, ever. Carrots take their time to sprout, and melons need some pretty warm weather to get going, so mine was the first to come up. Still, it gave me a firm footing in the garden, and many years and plants later, I still get a huge burst of excitement every time I see the tip of a little green sprout start to break through the soil’s surface. It’s like each one is a little friend poking out to say hello! (If you weren’t sure if I was a weird plant lady or not, I’m pretty sure that question has now been answered). So today I am going to go over how to start your own seeds, so that you can not only experience this wonder first hand, but end up with some delicious home-grown fruits and veggies, too! Because the vegetables and fruits from your garden will taste soooo much better than the stuff you can buy at the store, plus you can grow old heirloom varieties that you straight up cannot buy anywhere.
I’m a bit of a seed hoarder and have been collecting rare heirloom seed varieties for several years now, and my seeds number somewhere in the thousands (kiiiiinda scary when I actually type that out). With some of the heirloom varieties, you can see why they started to pitter out in popularity as compared to the more engineered varieties (not very disease resistant, slow-growing, or low-producing), but other heirlooms out perform the more popular commercial varieties, so you never really know for sure what you’re going to get in terms of production and hardiness in an heirloom until you give it a shot. Like all the other purchases in my life, though, I mine through the online reviews to get a good feel about the quality of the plant before I buy my seed packets. I recommend looking at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange for high quality and reliable heirloom seed sources.
For starting seeds, I recommend using a seed starting potting soil mix. This is a soil mix particularly blended with extra peat moss or eco coir to help the soil retain moisture and keep it light so that the small roots of the seedling can spread through it easily. Once you’re ready to transplant, however, you should use a soil mix that meets the needs of the specific type of plant you’re trying to grow. If you’re container gardening (growing things in pots rather than in the ground), a general potting soil mix should be fine for most fruit and vegetable varieties (I recommend Black Gold). You can add in fertilizers as needed depending on the types of plants you’re growing.
So there are three basic nutrients that plants need, Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K), or Potash. There are of course many other minerals and nutrients that help them grow, but those are the three most important ones. Nitrogen is necessary to create chlorophyl, and so it helps plants grow faster and have healthy green leaves. Phosphorus helps with root and flower development, and Potassium helps plants distribute water and nutrients evenly through the plant. When you look at fertilizer blends, there are usually three numbers listed, and each number corresponds to the percentage of the fertilizer that that element makes up. So in a fertilizer labeled 20-05-10, the fertilizer is made up of 20% Nitrogen, 5% Phosphorus, and 10% Potassium, in that order.
I also recommend investing in a solid gardening apron to help keep all your tools at hand. When you’re dealing with something as sensitive as a seed or seedling, you don’t want to have to set it down and search around for where you set down your marker or string or trowel. I have Heirloomed Collection’s waxed canvas garden apron and *highly* recommend it. It’s incredibly rugged and the waxed canvas makes it easy to keep relatively clean, no matter how much mud or manure I get on it. And as far as gardening goes, as long as you keep in mind the nutritional needs of the plant you’re trying to grow and accommodate that in the soil, you’ll be fine. So get out there and start growing your own, your stomach and tastebuds will thank you! And of course if you have any questions feel free to email me or post them here 🙂
Write down the seed varieties on your seed stakes and set them aside. Fill the seed starting tray with the seed starting potting soil. Tap the tray down gently a couple times to help the soil settle. Water it thoroughly until the water starts coming out the bottom of the tray, then pause and wait for a minute, and repeat twice more. The soil should now be very damp.
Read the sowing instructions on the seed packet to determine how deep the seed should be sowed into the soil. Strawberry seeds, for example, should just be scattered on the surface of the soil, then topped with a very thin sprinkling of soil. Beans, on the other hand, should be sown about 1-inch deep.
Once the seeds are sown, insert the seed stakes into the assigned container so you can keep track of which seeds are which. Water thoroughly once more. It is very important, however, that you water with a thin gentle stream of water, like this watering can, because trying to water light soil like seed starting mixes with a strong stream can actually splash and dislodge the soil and seed, damaging the germination process.
Place the trays on the germination mat, indoors, with the germination mat plugged in. Water about once a day, increasing the frequency if it is hot. The trays will drain water out the bottom each time you water them, so you can do it on a wire rack over a sink and allow the trays to drain for a minute before placing them back on the mat.
Keep in mind the germination time for the seeds you are sowing before giving up on them and tossing the soil in the compost. Different types of plants germinate (sprout) at different lengths of time, and some varieties, like peppers, can take several weeks to germinate.
Once the plant has sprouted, you can take it off the germination mat. Once it’s grown to the point where it has little roots poking out the bottom of the seedling tray, it is time to transplant it. To transplant the seedling, prepare the area that you’ll be transplanting it to by mixing in the necessary fertilizers and compost that benefit the particular plant you’re trying to grow. Dig a hole that’s large enough to accommodate the existing root ball of the seedling, plus about 4-inches around it. Water the hole thoroughly before placing the plant inside. Fill the hole around the plant with the soil that you dug out until it is even with the surface soil. Pat the soil down gently around the stem of the plant to secure it in place, but don’t press down hard otherwise you can damage the roots of the plant. Water the area around the plant very thoroughly. And just a general tip, when watering plants, try not to splash water onto the leaves, especially in hot weather. Only allowing the water to touch the base of the plant and soil around it, and not stream down over the plant and the leaves to the soil, will help prevent fungi from infecting the plant. Water as needed for your plant variety, and enjoy your harvest!