How to Start a Vegetable Garden Part 1: Starting Seeds
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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.

Indoors:

  • 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

Resources:

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