Seed starting: set your garden right

By Grant McCarty
Local Foods and Small Farms Educator,
University of Illinois Extension

As we enter April, now is the time to start our vegetable transplants. Growing your own plants from seeds can be intimidating as it does require some equipment; however, once you figure out how to grow your own vegetable transplants, it is very easy. It allows you to grow unique varieties you may not find at nurseries or garden centers.

There are many vegetables that benefit greatly from being started indoors. These include warm loving plants like eggplant, tomato, and pepper. Larger seeds like squash do not need to be started indoors although can sometimes benefit from 2-3 weeks of growth as a transplant. Cool season crops like cabbage can also benefit from seed starting.

Equipment for growing transplants includes a light source, growing mix, pots/cell trays and seeds. There are seed starting kits available and once purchased can be used each year. Because transplants need 10-14 hours of light, you should aim for a light source that you can control.

This light source needs to start very close to the pots/cell trays then gradually raise it up as the transplants grow. If the light source is too high starting out, it can lead to spindly growth.

If you use a window for your transplants, the plants may not get enough light.  A transplant growing mix can be found at garden centers and supply needed nutrients to your plants.  Keep the transplants’ soil moist as nutrients will leach if too wet.

Before you plant your seeds, you need to factor in your planting date which is determined by the last expected spring frost in the area. This date can vary year to year. Different crops are started at varying weeks before this date. For warm season crops, these are planted mid to end of May and can be started as transplants 5-7 weeks before this planting period.

Seeds should be planted a depth double their thickness and covered with light growing mix. Place your plants in a warm area of your house. Keep soil moist during this critical period.

Within 7-10 days or earlier, your seeds will have germinated. Now all you have to do is make sure the plant gets the water and light it needs to be ready for your garden.


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