Ever fantasized about having your own vegetable patch? It's doable, even if you're a gardening newbie. You'll need patience—there's no instant gratification here, and you can expect a few curveballs—but there's a good chance you'll wind up with healthy, organic produce come summer.
When you consider how many costs are baked into mature plants at the garden store, propagating from friends' specimens and using seeds are the most affordable methods of growing veggies. You can sow straight into the soil in your backyard, but if you live somewhere where the winters are freezing, make the most of the growing season by starting your veggies indoors.
You'll have to wrap your head around your climate zone. Seed prep occurs in anticipation of the warming weather, generally about two months before the frost melts away in areas with icy winters.
Each plant has different needs, so research timelines and develop a staggered sowing schedule if necessary. You can gather seeds from your existing plants or buy them. Nurseries can give you a headstart with seedlings instead of seeds if you're a few weeks too late and your veggies won't be ready before temperatures drop again.
You can use anything that can hold a small amount of soil and seeds, such as a newspaper roll made into a cylinder with the help of a can. Other options include:
Of course, you can buy soil blocks or seedling trays from nurseries too. Plastic containers are water-efficient but can be more jarring during a transplant than biodegradable alternatives that let you open the bottom and plant as is, leaving roots undisturbed.
Soil from your backyard isn't going to cut it, and while you can employ compost soil and nothing else, there are better routes. You need an airy, sterile, and moisture-retentive potting mix with the right balance of nutrients, and you can make your own superior seed-raising mix at home to ensure you give your plants the best start in life.
Mix 2 parts sieved compost with 2 parts coconut fiber, 1 part sand, 1 part worm castings, and some aged manure. The mix should be fine, not chunky.
Read the instructions on seed packets—seeds may need soaking, chilling, or scarifying before sowing. Place the prepared seeds at the surface of the soil-filled containers and gently press down until they're covered by about 1/2 an inch of seed starting mix.
You can leave tiny seeds like chia or basil uncovered unless they need darkness to germinate; again, read the instructions first. Be organized if you're planting various species in multiple containers: label them with plastic plant markers or popsicle sticks. Store them on a tray for convenience.
Seeds can be fussy about temperature, so check the packaging for ideal conditions. They generally prefer warmth, and any cozy place in your home will do at this stage. Germination can occur as early as five days after sowing, or it can take up to three weeks for a shoot to break through the soil.
Seeds also require hydration to undergo their glorious transformation, and they should be happy with a gentle daily spritz of water to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Once a shoot emerges, pop your container on a bright window sill, balcony, or patio where it's sunny for at least six hours. You could also use artificial grow lights.
Light, water, warmth, and oxygen are the key ingredients that make miracles happen. Your seedling will develop its first leaves after a couple of weeks and become more robust after two more weeks.
You can start preparing for transplanting when your seedling is about eight inches tall. Hardening off involves getting them used to being outside, so they don't get a rude awakening when the move becomes permanent.
Over a week or so, protect the seedlings from wind, gradually move them from indirect sun to partial and full sun, and bring them indoors on frigid nights. Increase the time spent outside every day. You can then transplant in the early evening to prevent scalding and follow up with fertilizer and daily waterings.
Finally, your seedlings are ready to move to your garden proper or a spacious container with drainage; make sure to space them out as per their unique directions. Cover your specimens overnight if you transplant before the last frost. In two months or so, you should be able to marvel at the results and have your first harvest to savor or share.
Tomatoes are a warm-season vegetable. Some types take as long as four months to mature, so if you enjoy refreshing gazpacho, you'll want to start the process early.
Assuming a mid-April last frost date, prep your seeds indoors in early March. Phase one culminates with planting hardened-off seedlings in the middle of spring, around the end of April. Tomatoes are fairly straightforward to transplant.
These are cool-season vegetables that tolerate relatively cold soil well. Again, if we're assuming the last frost takes place smack dab in the middle of April, you'll have to sow the seeds indoors during the first two weeks of February.
Harden off the onions in the last week of March, and the easy-to-transplant cauliflowers in the second week of April.
Don't be overly ambitious, and this will be a fun, edifying project. Purchase seeds or seedlings that are known for thriving in your city, and start on a small scale, so failures don't stop you from trying again.
You can advance to tending more extensive veggie gardens when your skills and knowledge improve. Consult horticultural experts online if you experience challenges, and make note of your successes so you can repeat them next year!