Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors: Tips for a Successful Garden
Starting your vegetable seeds indoors is a great way to get a head start on your garden and ensure a successful harvest. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Choose the Right Seeds
When choosing seeds, look for varieties well-suited for your region and the time of year you plan to plant. You can find this information on the seed packet or by researching online. We also have several varieties of seeds grown locally in the Nipigon area and offered for sale. Individual seed and plant information is available in the “Gardening Shortcut Links” above under “North Hardy Plants to grow”. I have successfully grown all of these, and most I grow year to year.
For a list of seeds I currently have in stock, visit >>
Common vegetable seeds to start indoors, organized from easiest to hardest based on gardening level:
|Easy||Lettuce, Radish, Spinach, Green Beans, Peas, Zucchini, Cucumber, Basil, Dill, Chives|
|Medium||Tomatoes, Peppers, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Eggplant, Kale, Swiss Chard, Parsley, Thyme|
|Hard||Brussel Sprouts, Celery, Leeks, Onions, Artichokes, Fennel, Okra, Rosemary, Sage, Watermelon|
Remember that difficulty levels can vary depending on location, climate, and personal experience. Start with what you feel comfortable with and gradually work your way up. Good luck with your indoor seed starting!
Gather Your Supplies
Before you begin, make sure you have all the necessary supplies. Here’s what you’ll need:
Seed starting mix
Seed starting mixes: These are specially formulated for starting seeds and are often made with peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.
Potting soil: This can be used as a last resort if you can’t find seed starting mixes, but make sure to choose a light, sterilized potting soil and mix it with perlite or vermiculite for improved drainage.
Garden soil: This can be too heavy and compact for seed starting and may contain weed seeds, pathogens, or other contaminants.
Always use high-quality, sterile soil mixes when starting vegetable seeds to ensure a healthy and successful start to your garden.
Seed trays or containers
Plastic or biodegradable seed trays are affordable, lightweight, and come in various sizes and cell counts. In addition, they are easy to sterilize and can be reused year after year.
Recycled containers: You can use recycled containers like yoghurt cups, egg cartons, or paper cups as seed containers. Just make sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage.
Peat pots are biodegradable and can be planted directly in the ground, reducing transplant shock.
Grow bags: These are made of breathable fabric and have become increasingly popular in recent years. They are lightweight, easy to move around, and can be reused for several years. In addition, grow bags offer several advantages over traditional containers, including:
- Improved drainage: The fabric allows excess water to drain out, preventing waterlogging and root rot.
- Air pruning: The fabric also allows air to penetrate the soil, promoting air pruning of roots, which leads to healthier and more vigorous plants.
- Better temperature regulation: The fabric helps regulate soil temperature, keeping roots cooler in hot weather and warmer in cool weather.
- Reduced transplant shock: When it’s time to transplant your seedlings, you can plant the entire grow bag into the ground, reducing transplant shock and root disturbance.
New Seeds: Buying new seeds from a reputable seed company ensures that you are getting fresh, high-quality seeds that are less likely to have been exposed to pests, diseases, or poor storage conditions. New seeds also tend to have higher germination rates, meaning that more of your seeds will sprout and grow into healthy plants. Additionally, buying new seeds allows you to try new varieties and experiment with different crops and flavours.
Old Seeds: Using seeds from previous years can be a cost-effective way to start your garden, especially if you have saved seeds from previous harvests. However, it’s important to note that the viability of seeds decreases over time, meaning that fewer seeds will germinate and grow into healthy plants. To increase your chances of success with old seeds, store them in a cool, dry place and perform a germination test before planting. You can also try scarifying or stratifying seeds to help break down seed coatings and increase germination rates.
For information on testing the germination of old seeds, visit >>
Watering can or spray bottle.
To start your seeds, they must only be moist until they Germinate. Top watering with a spray bottle is recommended until the plant germinates.
Top watering: Top watering involves pouring water directly onto the soil surface, which can help to distribute moisture evenly and encourage seed germination. However, top watering can also disturb the soil and potentially dislodge or damage delicate seedlings. It can also create a moist environment on the soil surface, increasing the risk of fungal diseases and mould.
Bottom watering: Bottom watering involves placing your seed trays or containers in a shallow water tray and allowing the soil to absorb moisture from the bottom up. This method helps to keep the soil evenly moist without disturbing the seeds or soil. It also encourages seedlings to develop strong roots by forcing them to grow deeper in search of moisture. However, bottom watering requires careful monitoring to prevent overwatering, which can lead to waterlogged soil and root rot.
Grow lights or a sunny windowsill.
When starting vegetable seeds indoors, providing enough light is essential to ensure healthy growth. Most vegetable seeds need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day to develop strong stems and leaves. However, if you cannot access a sunny windowsill or live in a region with limited sunlight, you can use grow lights to supplement the natural light.
When using grow lights, place them about 2-4 inches above the tops of your seedlings and adjust the height as they grow taller. Keep the lights on for 12-16 hours daily, turning them off at night to provide a period of darkness. You can also use a timer to automate your grow light schedule.
Remember that too little or too much light can adversely affect your seedlings. Too little light can result in weak, leggy plants, while too much light can cause heat stress and burn the leaves. Monitor your seedlings closely and adjust the light levels as needed to ensure a healthy and successful start to your garden.
Most vegetable seeds should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost in your area. This gives them enough time to germinate and grow strong before being transplanted outside. Use a calendar to determine the best time to start your seeds.
Prepare Your Seed Trays
Fill your seed trays or containers with seed starting mix, leaving about ½ inch of space at the top. Moisten the mix with water, but don’t make it too wet.
Plant Your Seeds
Follow the instructions on the seed packet for planting depth and spacing. In general, you’ll want to plant seeds twice as deep as their diameter. Once you’ve planted your seeds, cover them with a thin layer of seed starting mix.
Provide Adequate Light and Water
Place your seed trays on a sunny windowsill or under grow lights. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. You may need to water your seeds every day or every other day, depending on the humidity in your home.
Transplant Your Seedlings
Once your seedlings have developed their first set of true leaves, they can be transplanted into larger containers or your garden. Make sure to harden off your seedlings before transplanting them outside by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over several days.
By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a successful vegetable garden. Happy planting!
Seeds and planting
Links and Resources
(These are some of what I use)
mybackyard.ca Seeds Page
Get a Head Start on Spring: The Benefits of Starting Your Seeds Indoors
Saving Vegetable Seeds: A Comprehensive Guide to Gardening Success
myBackyard.ca Planting Guide
Pollock Tomatoes (North hardy Tomato variety)
Tomatoes (Useful information on starting tomatoes from seed)
Individual seed and plant information is available in the "Gardening Shortcut Links" above under "North Hardy Plants to grow". I have successfully grown all of these, and most I grow year to year.
Common vegetables and the number of weeks before the last frost date they should be started indoors:
|Vegetable||Weeks to Start Seeds Indoors|
|Tomatoes||6-8 weeks before last frost|
|Peppers||8-10 weeks before last frost|
|Eggplant||8-10 weeks before last frost|
|Broccoli||6-8 weeks before last frost|
|Cabbage||6-8 weeks before last frost|
|Cauliflower||6-8 weeks before last frost|
|Brussels sprouts||10-12 weeks before last frost|
|Kale||4-6 weeks before last frost|
|Lettuce||4-6 weeks before last frost|
|Spinach||4-6 weeks before last frost|
|Swiss chard||4-6 weeks before last frost|
|Cucumbers||2-4 weeks after last frost|
|Zucchini||2-4 weeks after last frost|
|Green beans||2-4 weeks after last frost|
|Peas||Direct sow outdoors|
|Carrots||Direct sow outdoors|
|Radishes||Direct sow outdoors|
Remember that these are general guidelines and may vary depending on your location and climate. Always check the seed packet or do some research to determine the best time to start your seeds for your specific area. Happy gardening!