How to Start a Vegetable Garden Part 1: Starting Seeds

Growing your own vegetables is one of the most rewarding activities! Here, I show you how to start a vegetable garden from seeds.

How to Start a Vegetable Garden

Hi! This is me changing hats for the day – or rather, for a few days over the next couple of months – where I’m moving away from the kitchen to show you guys how to start a vegetable garden from seeds. Kyle and I have had a vegetable garden for the past 10 or 12 years but only in the past couple of years have we started growing some of our veggies from seeds. By no means are we experts on this topic but we thought it would be fun to bring you guys into the fold this year and maybe inspire a few of you to get your hands dirty. Or not so dirty – your choice!

If you’re anything like us, you’re itching for the weather to feel like spring (hello, New England!) so you can get outside and soak up some sun. This is also the time of year (or even earlier, depending on where you live) that you want to start planting. A couple of years ago, we started our seeds in February using a technique called winter sowing but we’ve since adopted the traditional indoor method since we don’t usually plan early enough for a winter start.

Here are 5 tips to consider when growing from seed:

  1. Decide what you want to grow as early as possible. Back in March, we made a list of everything we wanted to grow this year. And then we cut the list by 25%. We’re always a little overeager – know your limits, with regards to the amount of space you have to grow veggies (some require much more space than others!) and how much time you have to devote to keeping your garden well-maintained.
  2. Consider how much space with good sunlight you have in your house if you plan to start seeds indoors. If space (or timing) is an issue, there are still lots of seeds you can start outdoors directly in the soil during the spring. Whenever possible (i.e. with seeds that are hardy enough), we plant our seeds directly in the soil outdoors (called direct sowing) since we don’t have a ton of space with good sunlight indoors to maintain seedlings for everything we like to grow.
  3. Know your growing climate and your last and first frost dates (for spring and fall plantings). We live in USDA Hardiness Zone 6A. Our last frost is usually mid-May and first frost is mid- to late-October. These dates will drive when you start seeds indoors for transplanting or when you should directly sow them. Read the back of your seed packets or a reputable resource specifically for your hardiness zone for the best information about when to start planting. Note that the beautiful pins you see on Pinterest are usually created without accounting for zones, climates, and growing seasons.
  4. Take into account the amount of sun and shade in your yard. Generally, you want a space with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day during the peak of the growing season. Some veggies do well in cooler/shadier spaces. Again, read your seed packets for this type of information.
  5. Choose a reputable seed supplier. If the type of veggies you wish to grow makes a difference to you, choose your seeds wisely. To us, organic and non-GMO are the most important factors which drive where we buy our seeds from. As often as possible, we also prefer to buy heirloom seeds, or seeds which have been saved from plantings year after year. The whole non-GMO conversation is another discussion in and of itself – and not one I want to focus on today – but if this isn’t a factor for you, seeds can be found are EVERYWHERE these days. We source our seeds from Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds and High Mowing Seeds.

How to Start a Vegetable Garden

So, down to the good stuff: what we’re planting. I’ve broken our list into Indoors and Direct Sow. Those which can be directly sown will go into the ground between now and mid-May.


  • Costoluto Genovese tomatoes (for slicing)
  • San Marzano Lungo No 2 tomatoes (for canning)
  • Berkeley Tie Dye tomatoes (for slicing)
  • Peachvine cherry tomatoes (for salads/roasting/eating straight from the vine)
  • Diamond eggplants
  • Yankee onions
  • Thyme
  • Genovese basil
  • Greek oregano
  • Italian (flat leaf) parsley
  • Catskill Brussels sprouts (we’ll start these in the summer for a fall crop)

Direct Sow:

  • Pollinator mix (flowers to boost our bee and butterfly population to assist with pollination)
  • Catnip (for Wilma)
  • Little Marvel garden peas
  • Buttercrunch lettuce
  • Rocky Top mix lettuce
  • Boston pickling cucumbers
  • Marketplace (everyday) cucumbers
  • Parisienne carrots
  • Blue Curled Scotch kale
  • Black Turtle beans (black beans)
  • Burbank Russet potatoes
  • Dark Red Norland potatoes
  • Garlic (to be planted this fall for a spring 2017 crop)

Already established:

  • strawberries
  • blueberry bushes (3)
  • chives
  • peppermint

We’ve grown many of these varieties before with very good luck. The black beans will be new for us and sort of a “what the heck!” choice. This is also the first year that we’re growing herbs from seed. We can rarely find organic herbs in our local nurseries so again, what the heck! We also haven’t found a slicing tomato variety that we consider to be “the one” yet, so we’re trying two new varieties this year.

How to Start a Vegetable Garden

Planning, Planting, Nurturing, and Learning:

Seed Starting Containers: We started our indoor seeds on March 28th in egg cartons we saved for a couple of months. The cartons serve a few purposes: 1.) they’re free! 2.) they provide 3.) the plastic ones help keep the soil moist and provide a greenhouse environment to some of the seeds when you flip the plastic lid over the soil. The divided plastic trays work just as well; we just didn’t want to spend the money on them. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of the cardboard egg cartons since the soil dries up much faster than it does in the plastic cartons.

Once the seedlings are large enough, you’ll need to move them to bigger containers to allow the roots plenty of room to grow before you transplant them into the garden. More about this in a couple of weeks.

Soil: Any indoor potting mix works well. We opted for an organic variety we found at Lowe’s. Do not plant your seeds in potting mix that contains fertilizer. There is no need for fertilizer at this time and in fact, it will burn your tender seedlings if the seeds germinate at all.

Planting: Plant the seeds according to the seed packet instructions – usually ¼- to ½-inch deep or just barely covered with soil.

Labeling: Don’t skip this step even if you’re 100% positive you’ll remember where you planted each seed. Because, you won’t. Tongue depressors or popsicle sticks work great. I opted for plastic labels this year which can be reused year after year.

Environment: The seeds will need lots of warmth – some folks opt for warming pads; we just kick the heat up a little and keep them near an air vent – and then lots of sunlight once they start to germinate. We may be adding a few DIY grow lights to the mix this weekend to help boost the amount of light the seedlings receive. I’ll post again next week with an update on this.

Water: Be sure to keep the soil moist while you’re nurturing your seeds and seedlings. I use a watering can with a small spout but once the seeds germinate, I switch to a spray bottle and mist the soil once a day to keep the soil from getting dry. Misting vs. pouring water prevents you from injuring the tender seedlings and prevents them from being knocked over.

Germination: Germination will take anywhere from 7 to usually 21 days. The onions were up in 6 days; thyme in 8; tomatoes in 10; oregano and eggplant in 14. It’s a great idea to keep track of germination times so you’ll be able to plan well for next year.

The Learning Curve: We’ve also learned quite a bit over the last few years, especially about what doesn’t grow well for us (like broccoli) and that kale is a favorite for the deer. We’ll be evoking a mitigation plan this year for the kale – more on that later in the season. We’ll also be moving the lettuce from raised beds to pots on the deck both for convenience and to provide them with more sunlight. We’re trying potatoes again. Apparently, potatoes are very easy to grow but we had some trouble growing them in buckets two years ago so we’ll be trying them in the raised beds this year.

Speaking of raised beds, we’ll be building a couple more this spring so I’ll snap a few photos and show you how incredibly easy they are to DIY. Stay tuned!

How to Start a Vegetable Garden

Over the next few weeks, I’ll also be posting about:

  • Moving the seedlings to larger pots
  • Hardening the seedlings outdoors
  • Transplanting the seedlings to the garden
  • Direct sowing

I hope you’ll stick with me as I share some of our non-kitchen adventures. Vegetable gardening is one of our very favorite homesteading activities and I hope we can inspire some of you to try it for yourselves!

How to Start a Vegetable Garden


Chorizo Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Overstuffed Baked Potatoes

Chorizo roasted broccoli cheddar overstuffed baked potatoes. Change your lunch game forever.

Chorizo Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Overstuffed Baked Potatoes

Hello cheese sauce-smothered baked potatoes stuffed with all kinds of good things! I talked a few weeks ago about a new and brilliant way to bake up the perfect baked potato with the fluffiest interiors and crispiest skins. Phenom. Seriously, it will change your life.

Chorizo Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Overstuffed Baked Potatoes

Two weekends in a row I cranked up the oven to bake those potatoes and both times, it was for only this recipe. Chorizo roasted broccoli cheddar overstuffed baked potatoes. With that pool of cheese sauce sitting on top and a light sprinkle of scallions? How can this be wrong? Well, it’s not.

Chorizo Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Overstuffed Baked Potatoes

Everything about these potatoes is right. (and at this point, I can’t get Matthew McConaughey out of my head…alright!) The idea came to me out of that ever-present issue of finding things in the fridge I didn’t know we had. Like broccoli. How does a head of broccoli get lost in the fridge?

Chorizo Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Overstuffed Baked Potatoes

And chorizo. That one lonely link I tossed in a zip-top bag then into the freezer a couple of months ago. I always have cheddar on hand so the cheese sauce was sort of a no-brainer. Lunch was solved pretty easily.

Chorizo Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Overstuffed Baked Potatoes

And can I be honest? We completely scarfed these potatoes down. Toasty broccoli, zippy chorizo, and a 5-minute sharp cheddar sauce all smushed inside tender, fluffy, crispy-skinned baked potatoes made for an outstanding lunch. Add a side salad or a small bowl of soup to round out the meal for a filling dinner. Either way, you need these potatoes in your life. STAT.

Chorizo Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Overstuffed Baked Potatoes

Chorizo Roasted Broccoli Cheddar Overstuffed Baked Potatoes

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


  • 4 baked potatoes
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, chopped small to medium
  • 1 link chorizo, chopped or crumbled
  • 2 tsp unsalted butter + extra for the potatoes (optional)
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped


  1. The key to these stuffed potatoes is to time roasting the broccoli with the end of the potato baking time. So, when there are 10-15 minutes left of the potato baking time, on a baking sheet, toss the broccoli with one tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes.
  2. After the broccoli goes in the oven, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk the milk into the butter-flour mixture until no lumps remain. Simmer for just a couple of minutes until the milk thickens and starts to bubble. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Lastly, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Toss the chorizo into the pan and cook until browned and warmed through, about 3-5 minutes. If the cheese sauce and chorizo are finished before the broccoli and potatoes, you can heat them back up over low heat when you're ready for stuffing.
  4. Once potatoes are finished, split them open immediately and add a pat of butter and some salt and pepper to each (if desired) and divide the broccoli and chorizo between each of them. Pour the cheese sauce over the top of the potatoes and top with some chopped scallions. Serve while still hot.


Smells Like Home original

Cannoli Cake

This homemade cannoli cake is a doozy! Homemade cannoli filling sandwiched between rum-soaked yellow butter cake layers with whipped vanilla buttercream frosting and loads of mini chocolate chips. I can’t even.

Cannoli Cake

So I’ve got a funny story – and a long one so bear with me – to go along with this cannoli cake; this is the cannoli cake that wasn’t supposed to be. We celebrated dad’s 82nd birthday last month and after a few health issues over the past three years – for him, me, and my eldest brother – this celebration is one that I looked forward to for a while. A week before our planned party, dad told me he wanted a caramel cake and of course, all sorts of sweet confections with drippy salted caramel sauce darted through my mind.

Cannoli Cake

After a few days of searching for the *perfect* recipe, I started to wonder if he meant a Southern caramel cake. You know: the one in which “The Help” hysterically repopularized some years ago. Dad had spent some time in the 50s playing professional baseball (the “minors” before they were called such) throughout many of the Southern states and I thought that maybe this was the type of caramel cake he was thinking about.

So. The day before his party, I decided to check. After all, no one deserves to be disappointed with their birthday cake, amiright? And you know what he told me when I asked about his cake choice again? “Uhh…that Italian cake. Ganol!” Cannoli cake. Because, well, you can take the boy out of the Bronx. Southern caramel cake? Psshh. But also on a more serious note, I’m pretty sure dad forgot about the caramel cake conversation we had had earlier in the week…and that scares the bejesus out of me. I’m not ready for him to “get old.”

Cannoli Cake

Let me tell you though: I switched gears pretty easily here. Anything having to do with cannoli I can get behind 100%. For this creation, I decided to go with my favorite yellow butter cake which I brushed with rum when the layers were fresh from the oven, though I think a sponge cake would have been great too. I sandwiched a homemade cannoli cream filling between the cooled layers and covered the cake with whipped vanilla buttercream frosting. The finishing touch – and quite possibly my favorite thing to do with a cake – involved smacking handfuls of mini chocolate chips onto the buttercream.

I didn’t get any photos of the slices since it’s a leeeetle impolite to cut into a birthday cake which isn’t your own but trust me here: this is an impressive cake. The cannoli filling is just perfect – rich, sweet, and creamy with mini chocolate chips studded throughout – and not only does the whipped vanilla buttercream frosting hold up really well to a windfall of chocolate chips, but it’s not overly sweet and complements the other cake components flawlessly.

Dad totally flipped out over this cake, showing it off to everyone like a proud papa, and after he whiffed at blowing out the candles his first two tries (hello COPD), he happily sliced the first piece and then devoured it like it was his job. And basically? It when it’s your birthday cake, it’s your job.

Cannoli Cake

Cannoli Cake

Prep Time: 14 hours

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 14 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 12-16 servings

You'll want to plan ahead to make this cake. The ricotta for the cannoli filling needs an overnight in the fridge to drain. Don't skip this step else you'll end up with runny cannoli filling and really...who wants a runny cannoli filling?!


    For the cannoli filling:
  • 16 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ tsp sweet Marsala wine
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  • For the cake:
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing pans
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting pans
  • 1 ½ cups cake flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 1 tbsp dark rum
  • For the whipped vanilla buttercream frosting:
  • 3 sticks plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 3 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • For assembly:
  • 12 oz mini chocolate chips


  1. To make the cannoli filling: The night before you plan to assemble the cake, drain the ricotta cheese in a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Set the strainer over a bowl and allow the ricotta to drain in the refrigerator at least 12 hours.
  2. The next day, transfer the ricotta to a medium mixing bowl; discard the liquid in the bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients, folding in the chocolate chips last. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. To make the cake: Center one of the oven racks and preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease the bottom and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans with butter. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper cut to fit the pan. Flour the sides of the pans, tapping out the excess flour; set the pans aside.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together; set aside.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for about 4 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate before adding the next and scraping the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add half of the dry ingredients, then all of the milk, then the remainder of the dry ingredients, mixing to just about fully incorporate each before adding the next. Scrape the bowl well to incorporate anything that may be stuck to the bottom of the bowl.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans (a kitchen scale works great for this). Smooth out the tops with an offset spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until the cakes are a light golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the centers. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and immediately brush the tops with the rum. Allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes then run a sharp knife around the edge of pans and transfer the cakes to the wire rack. Allow the cakes to cool completely before assembling.
  7. To make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter on medium speed until smooth, light, and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Add in the remaining ingredients and beat on low speed for 1 minute then medium speed for 6 minutes. (Frosting is best when used right away.)
  8. To assemble: Smear a small dollop of the frosting on a 10-inch round cake board or cake plate. Center one of the cake layers atop the cake board or plate. Spread the cold cannoli filling evenly over the cake. Set the second layer atop the cannoli filling. Frost the top and sides of the cake leaving enough frosting to pipe swirls on the top of the cake if you'd like. I used an Ateco 828 pastry tip but a Wilton 3M will work too - it's just a little smaller.
  9. Take a small handful of chocolate chips in your hand and shake them into an even layer with your hand flat (palm up). Position your hand close to the side of the cake and quickly flip the chips onto the side of the cake, pressing them lightly when your hand lands on the frosting. Work your way around the sides of the cake with the chips. Fill in any major gaps with more chips. Pipe swirls around the top edge of the cake and sprinkle the top some remaining chocolate chips.


Smells Like Home original | cake adapted from this yellow butter cake | whipped vanilla buttercream frosting adapted from this pink vanilla bean cake, originally from Sweetapolita