Organic Gardening: Starting Seeds Indoors
My Childhood Garden
When I was seven, my parents bought 13 acres, and mom did a garden each summer. My childhood memories of gardening actually aren’t great (sorry, Mom!). Here are the three things that stick out in my memory the most…
1) Weeding. Lots and lots of weeding. I hated it.
2) I clearly remember the day our horse got out and ate our entire crop of ripe sweet corn. Bummer.
3) Being forced to eat eggplant we had grown. I did not and still do not like eggplant.
It’s quite funny to me that 20+ years later, I’m teaching workshops on organic gardening and loving it. I’ve made a few changes from how my mom used to garden, including a way to basically never have to weed (I’ll share that secret soon!), but I grow many of the same things from my childhood – except eggplant, of course.
How to Start
My first piece of advice to anyone gardening is to grow what you LOVE and start out simple. Maybe only do 3-4 things the first year. I also tell people to grow what’s most expensive to buy. For example, cherry tomatoes are expensive but taste like candy! Bell peppers are another good one. Expensive to buy organic, but colorful and fun to grow at home.
By far, the easiest way to start gardening is to pick up seedlings (a young plant started from seed) at your local farmer’s market or plant nursery. These are usually already a couple months old, sturdy, and healthy. If you are just starting a garden and feel nervous about starting seeds or you don’t plan on planting much, this is a great option.
If you want to plant a lot or you just want to try growing from seed I’m going to show you a simple way to do it. It’s so much fun. Kids especially love it, and it’s a great place for them to contribute and learn.
Because we are working towards a zero-waste home I’ve cancelled almost all catalogs. The only ones I get are my two favorite seed catalogs. I LOVE reading through them. My husband always laughs at me at seed ordering time. I can never make up my mind, and I always spend way more money than I plan on. I have no idea who they hire to write the different seed descriptions, but they do a fine job at making you want to try every single seed variety.
Baker Creek Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange are my two favorite companies. When you order from a company, make sure they use non-GMO seeds, and ideally, that the seeds are certified organic or are true heirloom varieties. Also, look for varieties that work well in your climate. If you have a very hot, dry climate look for varieties that tolerate drought conditions. If you live somewhere with long winters and short summers, look for seed varieties that grow quickly.
There are several options for what to grow your seeds in. You can use plastic trays that hold various sizes of containers. Like this. They hold moisture in very well. I used these for years, but since I’m not a fan of plastic, I’ve moved on. I’ve also tried peat pots like these, but they don’t hold in moisture well. I always felt like I was watering them. Also, they didn’t decompose as quickly as I would have liked when I planted them.
This is my first year using peat pods, like these, recommended by my friend, Katie, at Riddlelove. I am very happy with them. They come as compressed discs, and you just add water to expand them. I put mine on baking sheets so that adding water, as needed, is easy. I fit about 80 per tray.
I keep track of what is where by making a small chart on paper. I tape it down to my table that is by the brightest window and put the trays on top.
Once your seeds have arrived in the mail, you’ll want to think about how much space you have in your garden. I always over-plant seedlings. Some don’t make it, and oftentimes, you’ll have a few die after you transplant them. So planting a few extra is a great idea and not difficult.
Most seeds need to be started 2-8 weeks before your last frost date. You can look that date up for your area here. I use a notebook to write out what needs to be planted when. That way, I can just glance at the first week in February and know immediately what seeds need to be started. Another great website is Zukeeni. It’s a little hard to figure out at first, but it’s an amazing resource. If you enter in your area, the seeds you are planting, and your garden size, it will give you weekly updates on what you need to start indoors, what you need to transplant outdoors, and what needs to be directly planted outside.
If doing them in plastic pots or peat containers, add organic potting soil. Moisten the soil and add seeds. I usually do 2-3 seeds per container. Most seed packets will tell you how far down to plant the seeds. Usually somewhere between 1/4 – 1″ deep. If doing them in the peat pods, expand the pods with water. Make sure the little dot is face up, because this is the opening in the netting where you put the seed. I push the seed down to the appropriate depth and then push a little soil on top. This is always the part my daughter loves to help with.
Let Them Grow
Now the easy part: just enjoy watching them grow! Make sure they are inside in a sunny spot and check to see if they need water every few days. If we have a nice day (50+ degrees), I’ll take them outside to set them in the full sun.
You’ll notice they all germinate at different times. I almost gave up on my celery seeds last week, but then this week, they decided to make an appearance. If you do have some seeds that don’t come up, just replant them in the same containers. Simple as that.
Last, but not least, you’ll need to thin the seedlings. You want only one plant per container or pod. Look for the strongest sprout. Keep that one and pull out or pinch off the rest. If you wait a while to do this, the roots might be tangled up beneath the dirt so pinching is better. If you do it early, you can usually pull out the extra sprouts.
Next post, I’ll chat through different options for creating and prepping a garden. It can be as simple as individual containers on your porch or as elaborate as a large yard full of raised beds.