This series is authored by Jamie Seger, Ohio State University Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Program Assistant.
Wednesday, I shared some information and tips on how to being your gardening adventure by planning and choosing which vegetables, fruits, and other goodies you will grow. Today, we’ll take a look at how to properly start seeds indoors (if you choose to go this route instead of buying pre-potted plants.) Honestly, all you need are some seed packets, biodegradable pots, some potting soil, and an hour or two! There is still time to start your seeds this late in April, as most plants can be transferred into your garden sometime in late May – June.
I typically use two different sources of information to see how I should go about starting the seeds – the back of the seed packet itself and Ohio State University Extension’s fact sheet series focused on gardening. The seed packets will tell you exactly how to start the seeds (how deep to plant them, how to water them, when to transfer them to the garden, etc.) and the fact sheets are designed to provide information specific to each vegetable and go far beyond seed starting to cover plant care, vegetable selection, and preparation (i.e. how to make yummy dishes out of what you have grown with your own two hands!)
I started my vegetable seeds (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and spinach) about two weeks ago on a Saturday when I had just enough free time between laundry loads – you can do the same this weekend! Below are step-by-step instructions for planting your seeds:
- Set out the number of biodegradable pots you will need – I usually use at least two pots per vegetable. For example, I put tomato seeds in four pots, pepper seeds in four pots, etc. This way, if some of the seeds do not grow for whatever reason, you have back-ups. Plus, I have had years where everything grows well, so I have an abundance of plants and can give the extras as gifts to friends and family! Because this type of pot is so porous, it’s recommended that you place them on top of a liner of some sort. You can buy the cheap plastic versions at home improvement stores or I have also used old cookie sheets in the past – they work just as well.
- Write the names of the vegetables you will be planting on the correct amount of “markers” to place in each pot so that you know which pot contains which vegetable’s seeds. I have two children, so there are always Popsicle sticks available in our craft drawer, so that is what I use. But my mother cuts up old window blind slats and uses them, so really the possibilities are endless – just use whatever you have available in the house! There are also a lot of other great ideas here.
- Put enough potting soil or seed starting soil in each pot to fill them up about 2/3rds of the way. I didn’t have much luck last year using seed starting soil by itself, so this year I tried a mixture of both.
- Water each pot until it becomes saturated. You can tell when the pot is saturated when the sides look damp or wet and water is trickling out into the pan.
- Time to plant the seeds! Open one packet of seeds and read the instructions on the back to see how many you should plant in one hole and how deep the hole should be in the potting soil.
- Make a few small holes in the soil of the pot using a pencil (I didn’t find out this neat little trick until this year, I really wish I had known about it sooner! It works really well!)
- Pour a small handful of seeds into the palm of your hand and carefully place a few (as many as directed by the packet) into each hole. Then smooth the potting soil over the hole until it’s filled.
- Place just a little bit more potting or seed starting soil on top and spritz with water. I have found that this works much better than watering the entire pot all over again. (Sometimes doing so will cause the seeds to dislodge from where you carefully placed them!)
- Repeat for all other pots.
- Make sure your pots are in a sunny and warm location and you’re done! But remember to keep watering and caring for your seeds after they’re planted. The general rule of thumb is to not let the soil get completely dry – you want the seeds to stay moist at all times.
Get Your Kids Involved!
Kids love to plant seeds! Both my son (4 years old) and my daughter (8 years old) have helped me with this task every year except this one… because we have new neighbor kids their age and the day I started the seeds it happened to be 75 degrees and sunny. Enough said! At any rate, in my experience I have found that the younger kids really enjoy putting the potting soil in the pots (with a little shovel too of course!) and watering them. The best tasks for older kids include helping to set out and label each pot and plant the seeds. My daughter really got a kick out of how tiny the pepper seeds were last year, and she has actually learned quite a bit about vegetables and gardening by just helping me with simple tasks like seed starting. You will be amazed at what they will remember and apply just by participating in “learning-by-doing” activities! I really missed the help from my kiddos this year and was pretty lonely doing it all by myself… even if our porch was cleaner without a 4-year-old dumping potting soil all over the place while trying to “hit” the pots! To me, a mess means they had a lot of fun!
Happy seed starting! My next update will be in May when it’s time to transfer the plants to the garden. In the meantime, care for your seeds by keeping the soil moist and making sure they’re warm and getting plenty of daily sunlight. They’ll be ready for your garden in just a few weeks!
Other posts in this series: