Starting Plants: Grow Your Own Vegetable Garden Transplants

Some plants can be started indoors early in the season, before soil and air temperatures are warm enough to plant outdoors. From a seed-starting perspective, most of our common vegetable plants fall into one of three categories.

  • Don’t do well direct-seeded outdoors – these plants seem to do better if they are started in a controlled environment. The reasons may include poor germination rates or too short of a growing season. Plants that fall into this category include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, pumpkins, winter squash, onions, Brussels sprouts, gourds, and melons.
  • Do okay either started indoors or direct-seeded – these plants could be done either way. Some plants have a short enough growing season that even though they can be started indoors, the economics of doing it don’t justify the time and expense. Plants that fall into this category are peas, beans, corn, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, summer squash, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, and cucumbers.
  • Don’t transplant well – these are generally root crops. Plants that fall into this category include carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, and potatoes.

People have different reasons for starting seeds indoors. The reasons I start my own garden plants include:

  • It is fun – I love to take my plants from start to finish.
  • Variety selection – many of the varieties I like to grow are not readily available locally.
  • Season extension – actually, garden centers will have transplants available long before you will ever need them, but it’s a nice excuse.
  • Plant health – generally the plants you buy at the garden center will be in good condition, but some issues can come in with greenhouse transplants.
  • Economics – with my large garden, I have several hundred transplants I put out each year.

Other people may have different reasons for growing their own transplants.

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Germinating seeds need three things – moisture, oxygen, and proper temperatures. Some small-seeded plants, such as lettuce, also require diffused sunlight. If you want to start some of your own plants in the house here are some points to consider.

  • Sunlight –  a south-facing window is best and the second best choice is west. If your plants won’t get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight you might consider supplying some additional light until they are big enough to put outside.
  • Pots or flats – pots or flats should be clean. Depending on the amount of space you have you may start your plants in 2 x 2 pots or germinate them in flats and transplant them into the pots later.
  • Soil – new, medium to fine-textured potting soil works well. Don’t be cheap when it comes to your soil. I personally don’t like the biodegradable peat pots or pellets. The plants I have started in them never do well as those I transplanted out of the plastic pony packs or pots.
  • Water and drainage – the soil needs to be wet. At the same time, there needs to be oxygen. So, be sure to wet the soil {I do it after the seeds are planted} and use flats and pots that have drainage holes. If you place your transplants on furniture, you can place a solid flat under the drainage flat. I also use a plastic dome to help keep the soil moist during the germination process. Remove the dome once the seedlings emerge so the plants can get used to the drier air.
  • Temperature – the best temperature range for the most seed to germinate is around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

The depth of planting is about three times the width of the seed. So. lay the seed flat and go three times that depth. With the light potting soil I actually go just a bit deeper. Sometimes the seed will pop up and the seed coat is still wrapped around the cotyledons. When handling the plants, try to not grab it by the stem. If a leaf tears, it can always grow a new one. If the stem gets crushed it will die.

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