In much of the United States, the only way to take advantage of a full growing season is to start your plants from seeds indoors. In areas where the last frost can be as late as the end of May, and the first as early as the beginning of October, the abbreviated growing season can mean a short garden season and a severe limitation on plants and flowers that would otherwise flourish. One solution is to choose only native plants for your garden. A more workable solution is to cover your kitchen table with newspaper one day in March, pull out the potting soil, seeds and pots, and give your garden an early jump on the season.
What You Need to Start Plants Indoors
Your best option is a room with south-facing windows that get direct sun at least 6-8 hours a day Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but not having one is no excuse. Grow lights are fairly inexpensive and very easy to set up. Just be sure there’s enough space for you to move around and water the plants.
Equipment and Supplies
You can buy commercial Ã¢â‚¬Ëœflats at any department or home supply store for under $5. They’re flat trays with individual compartments each meant to hold one seedling. An alternative that works quite well are cardboard egg cartons. They’re biodegradable, provide drainage and can easily be cut apart when it’s time to transplant your seedlings outside.
Purchased potting soil is a good growing medium, but if you want to really give your plants a great start, you can mix up a batch of potting soil with compost and peat moss, or leave the soil out entirely and grow in peat moss, vermiculite and compost. Or you can do as my grandmother did if you’ve thought ahead. At the end of each growing season, she dug up several buckets full of rich soil from the garden and baked it in a 300 degree oven for a couple of hours to sterilize it. In spring, she brought it out to use as potting soil for her new seedlings.
Seeds of course! Basil, tomatoes, carrots, asters, marigolds, nasturtiums, petunias and pansies are all good candidates for starting indoors, but you can choose any garden plant that can be started from seed.
When to Plant
Most garden plants can be started indoors about six weeks before the anticipated last frost. In most northern states, that’s mid-March. You can transplant the seedlings outside when they’ve reached 4-6″ height, after the last frost.
Mema’s Seed Starting Method
Loosely fill each egg cup with enough garden soil to just below the top. Do not pack down! Use your index finger to poke a hole about an inch into the soil. Drop seeds into the hole. For large seeds like beans, use ONE seed per cup. For tinier seeds, sprinkle a pinch into the hole. Lightly cover the seed by raking soil over it with your fingertips. Move trays to a sunny window (or beneath grow lights). Water well Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but don’t over-soak. Loosely cover each egg tray with a sheet of clear plastic wrap. Now LEAVE THEM ALONE. Check daily for signs of moisture, and when you don’t see any, lift the plastic wrap and mist well with a mister, then recover. You can remove the wrap when seedlings have two leaves, or are touching the plastic. When the seedlings are 1-2 inches tall, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time to thin them. In any container that holds more than two seedlings, pluck out all but the hardiest so that they’ll have the best chance at setting root and growing. Water and mist frequently until the danger of frost is past, then transplant to your garden outside.