Vegetables & Sustainable
Starting your vegetables indoors early can give your garden a jumpstart on spring. It also reduces the cost of seedling transplants in that a packet of seeds cost about the same as 1, 4-inch tomato plant. It also allows you to grow seedlings of varieties that may be difficult to find in the nursery as transplants.
To start you will need a suitable soil mix, growing containers, the proper moisture, light and temperatures. One way to provide those suitable conditions is to construct a hotbed or cold frame.
If you don’t have the space for a hotbed or cold frame, you need to make sure that you have indirect but high light around all plants. A south window will work but be sure to rotate the containers to get straight tall plants. If you don’t have a bright sunny window, then consider using 2, 40-watt cool fluorescent lights suspended about 6 inches above the plants (move the lights up as plants grow). In addition you will want to keep the plants at a fairly warm temperature, especially at night. Most vegetables germinate best between 65-75° F.
The soil media you choose should be fine textured, uniform and airy. Do not use garden soil. It is usually too heavy and often may have disease causing organisms. A commercial potting mix suited to starting seeds will work well. Fill your growing containers about 2/3 full. The depth of the container should be at least 2 inches and have drainage at the bottom.
If you intend to plant in recycled containers, sterilize them first with a 1:9 bleach to water solution. Rinse them well and let them air dry prior to use.
Keep seeds and seedlings evenly moist. If you have planted directly into a seed flat, transplant them as soon as they have their first true leaves into individual cell packs or small containers. If you wait too long to transplant the seedlings may suffer a set back and take longer to establish. When they reach 2 to 4 inches tall, you can harden them off, which allows for a transition period between the controlled conditions of indoors to the harsher environment outside. This process usually takes about 2 weeks to gradually expose the plants to longer periods of direct sun each day.