Growing your own favorite vegetables from seeds indoors can be fun and rewarding. Indoor seed starting is fairly simple and an inexpensive project that gives you a great advantage to choose wide varieties of seeds to grow that you don’t normally find as a transplant at the garden centers.
a. Always choose good quality seeds from reputable seed companies. Poor quality seeds or seeds stored for more than five years can result in poor germination. Select varieties that can mature within 110 growing days and give preference to disease resistant characteristics.
b. For seed starting, use clean containers like plastic flats, trays, peat pots, egg cartons, plastic cups or cell packs that are at least two inches deep with sufficient drainage holes. If you’re using old containers or trays, disinfect them using 10% bleach solution, rinse with clean water and allow it to air dry.
c. Use a soilless media mix containing peat and perlite/vermiculite for seed starting. Soilless media is light, sterile, well drained and holds enough moisture for seeds to germinate. Don’t use garden soil or potting soil, as it can contain weed seeds, pathogens and the media is heavy and that can slow the germination process.
d. A clear plastic dome or plastic cover that fit over the containers/trays can be beneficial for seed germination. It can retain humidity and heat in the media and spur the germination process. Once the seedlings germinate, remove the dome.
e. All seedlings need bright light for successful growth. Lack of light can cause skinny and elongated stem. Use two 40-watt fluorescent bulbs (one warm white bulb and a cool white bulb) and position the light bulbs six inches high above the tray. As the seedlings start to grow, adjust the bulb height to maintain six inches above the plants. Using a timer, set the light bulb duration from 12 to 16 hours per day.
Timing is critical when it comes to sowing seeds indoors and it should be calculated based on optimum outdoor transplanting time. Sowing seeds too early can result in weak, spindly plants or seeding too late can delay the maturity of the plants. Most vegetable crops need 4-8 weeks head start for indoors germination and a minimum of 6 inches growth before transplanting outdoors.
|Indoor Spring Seeding time||Crops||Outdoor Spring transplant time|
|Late March - early April||Cole crops (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli), head lettuce||Early May|
|Early April||Egg plants, peppers||Late May - Early June|
|Mid April||Tomatoes, okra||Late May - Early June|
|Early May||Pumpkins, squashes, melons, cucumbers||Early June|
Just before sowing the seeds, fill the tray with pre-moistened soilless media and gently level it. Sow the seeds to the recommended depth listed on the seed packet. Typically, large seeds are sown in pairs in an individual cell pack or in a container to a depth of 2-3 times the diameter of the seed. Cover the seeding hole lightly with surrounding media and press it down gently. After the germination, thin the extra seedling by snapping the shoot at the media base.
Medium-sized seeds are sown in furrows. Use a pencil or your index finger to make a shallow furrow across the surface of the growing media to a quarter inch deep. Leave a spacing of 1-2 inches between the furrows. Sow the seeds thinly and uniformly in the furrow and cover it lightly with the growing medium. Fine seeds can be sprinkled on the top of the growing media and dusted with light soilless mix just to cover the seeds.
After the seeds are sown, keep the medium moist, not wet. You can use a fine mist sprayer or place the container in a tray containing one inch of water. Cover the container / tray with a clear plastic dome or plastic wrap to hold the humidity. Label the container or the cell pack with variety/cultivar name and the date of sowing. Every morning, remove the dome/ plastic cover for few minutes to remove excess condensation and to allow aeration.
Place the seeded tray in a warm location with a temperature of 65-75 F. Do not place it in direct sunlight. You can also use a heat pad underneath the tray to enhance faster germination and to promote faster roots. This can be beneficial for slow germinating seeds like peppers and egg plants. After the seedlings emerge, remove the dome/ plastic cover and the heat pad.
Germinated Seedlings Care:
Now place the germinated seedling container in a ventilated location with the temperature of 65-70 F during the day and 60 - 65 F during the night. Young seedlings require bright light and sufficient moisture. Adjust the fluorescent bulb height to maintain six inches above the seedlings. Check the moisture in the media every day and when it starts to dry, water the container from below. If you have seeded in individual cell packs, transplant the seedlings to a large container after they reached 4- 6 inches high.
After the emergence of 4-5 sets of true leaves, fertilize the seedlings using water soluble based fertilizer at ¼ to ½ rate strength. Fertilize them once a week until you transplant them outdoor. Toughen the seedlings by brushing lightly with a broom handle or hand or you can also use an oscillating fan set on low.
It is important to harden the plant to get it acclimatized to outdoor condition. Begin the hardening process 7-10 days before transplanting outdoors. For first few days, set the seedlings outside in a shaded area during day time and bring it back indoors during night. After 3-4 days, set the seedlings outside in the sheltered area all night. In case the temperature drops below 60 F, use a floating row cover or thin blanket to protect them. In case of frost, bring them back indoors or place it in a cold frame. During 6th or 7th day, set the seedlings in a sunny area for couple of days before planting in ground. Water and fertilize the seedlings during the hardening process as needed.