Although it’s only early February and Maryland temperatures are below freezing, you can do more than dream about your vegetable garden for the 2014 growing season. Why not consider growing your plants from seeds? NOW is the perfect time for starting seeds indoors.
Six smart reasons to start vegetable plants from seeds indoors:
✓ SAVE TIME: By starting vegetables from seeds indoors, you gain 4 to 6 weeks over plants started by seeds in the ground.
✓ EARLY HARVEST: Maryland has short summers. Heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers, which need 65-80 days to bear ripe fruit, will get in the ground sooner and establish a strong root system for the hot summer months. This will allow you to harvest and enjoy them in early July instead of August.
✓ CHOICE: You have many more varieties to choose from since you are not limited to only those available at local stores. Burpee.com is one of several online stores that has a great selection of vegetables and flowers.
✓ SAVE MONEY: Growing your own plants from seeds instead of buying them, especially if you plan to have a full-sized garden, will save you a lot of money. Seeds are inexpensive. A packet of seeds averages less than $2 and some seeds are less than a dollar!
✓ CONTROL: You don't have to wait until the soil outside is warm enough to germinate the seeds. When the soil outside hasn't had time to warm up, the seeds will rot in the cool, damp garden soil.
✓ IT'S FUN!
Supplies and getting started
Getting started can be as easy as collecting some items around your house; several small containers, a few straight sticks, clear bags or plastic wrap, and some potting soil. By early- to mid-February, garden stores, big box stores and e-stores will have a wide selection of seeds to choose from. Read seed packets carefully, pick disease-resistant varieties and follow directions.
Fill containers, plant seeds at recommended depth, place a stick or two in the soil on opposite ends of the containers, water soil until moist, and drape a bag/plastic wrap to form an air tight seal around the total container. Place containers in an area in the house that is 65-75 degrees. Seeds do best in warm soil. Check every few days to make sure the soil does not dry out. Most seedlings will emerge in 10-14 days. Once the plants emerge, place in a southern exposed window as the plants need a lot of light. Remove plastic covers and water regularly.
For those that want to invest some money into this process, seed starter kits are available that include dome tops for the trays. Lights and even heat mats are available to help ensure a high percentage of your seeds will emerge and grow strong. The picture shows a DIY light kit that I built with some leftover scrap lumber, a seed kit with a dome and a heat pad.
This year I am growing lavender plants and they need constant heat at 70 degrees with light for up to 4 weeks until germination. Did I mention saving money? Small lavender plants will be $5 each in stores this spring, and I need about 12 plants to create a new border for my rose garden. The cost of the plants would be $60, the seeds were $1.99! Use Mariner360 to keep track of your gardening expenses and realize how much money you’re saving!
As the weather warms, set your young plants outside, in shade, a few hours each day to “harden off” the plants. This acclimates the plants to outside temperatures and weather conditions. Plant directly in a well-prepared garden bed after the last day of frost warning. Maryland has several micro climates, so do a web search to check frost dates where you live, and while you’re at it, read some other articles with more detail than this blog on how to grow vegetables from seeds.
If you never have grown plants from seeds, or even if you have tried and failed, now is the time to consider trying again! It’s rewarding in a variety of ways and it’s a lot of fun!
Ralph G. Valle is a Marketing professor at Towson University and an avid, award-winning gardener of over 35 years.
If you found this article useful, be sure to check out these related articles:
Is Growing a Garden "Worth It"?
The Finances of Eating and Living Healthy
Summer Food Savings: Buy Local