By Sarah Stebbins, Local Food Coordinator for the Healthy Roots Collaborative
Even though I love winters in Vermont (especially now that we have gotten some good snow to play in) this is also the time of year I start to dream about my gardens! One thing I have found that helps me continue to enjoy the winter, but gives me a little taste of spring and memories of warm summer days, is starting my own plants. Here are a few tips for starting your own seeds indoors.
The first step to starting your own seeds is, determining what you want to grow! If you are new to starting seeds indoors, I suggest picking one or two plants to get you started until you are comfortable with the process.
Once you have decided what you want to grow, it is time to do a little research. Let’s say you decide you would like grow some tomatoes. Now you need to determine, what variety of tomatoes you would like to grow. There are many different varieties, each with their own reason for growing, so you will need to figure out which variety best suites your needs.
Next you will need to determine when your tomatoes need to be started. This information can be found on the back of the seed package in most circumstances. For example, on the back of a seed package it states: “START INDOORS in a warm, well lighted area 6-8 weeks before planting outdoors.” If you look up the average last frost date in your area, you can then back calculate 6- 8 weeks from that date to determine when to start your seeds. For example, in Enosburg, the average last frost date (according to the Farmer’s Almanac) is May 21st, which means we need to start our tomato seeds around the last week in March or the First week in April.
Once you are ready to plant your seeds, more vital information for successfully starting seeds can be found on the back of the seed package. Most seeds need to be planted into a warm, moist environment in order for proper germination. The seed package states, “Sow seeds ¼” deep into individual containers filled with seed starting formula (which can be found at most garden supply stores). Keep moist. Seedlings emerge in 7-10 days at 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. This may mean you need a heat mat to go under your containers, or you need to place your table over a heat vent in your house. What is not mentioned on the seed package, but is important to know when starting your seeds is, after germination, proper light is essential for growth. Depending on what you are growing, a sunny window sill is often times enough sunlight for you seed starts, but supplemental lighting may be necessary for some types of plants.
Now for the fun part, watching your plants grow! Depending on the size container you used to start your seeds, you may end up needing to transplant them into bigger containers. Once the roots are developed, it is important they have enough room to grow and expand. Keeping your plants moist, and in ample sunlight are also essential to having good hardy plants. Once spring comes, about a week before transplanting your plants into the garden, you will need to harden them off. They have been kept in a nice cozy house up until now, and will likely be shocked by cool winds or the bright sun. So, for the first couple days put them outside in the morning sun. After a couple days, leave them out for the afternoon too (really making sure they have enough water). Finally, assuming the nights are warm enough, leave them out at night too. They can then be transplanted into your garden safely.
There is a lot of information out there about starting seeds indoors. There is a great list of plants to start indoors, a growing chart, and more information about seed starting and gardening in general on the Vermont Community Garden Network or www.vcgn.org. For those plants that just didn’t grow well or the ones you want to plant in your garden and didn’t have enough space to start at home, make sure to visit your local garden stores or greenhouses! We also have a variety of amazing, locally grown veggies available on our Franklin County Farmers Market Online, www.healthyrootsvt.org, starting in early spring!