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Starting Seeds Indoors

March 7, 2019
Written by Aaron

There’s nothing better than garden-fresh vegetables on your plate. But as a working generation with families to take care of, we don’t always have time to shop around the farmer’s markets on Saturday afternoons. Usually, a one-stop shop at the local grocery store is all we have time for.

While growing your own vegetables does require a time investment, it’ll save you plenty of time (and money!) in the long run! Plus, vegetable gardens add just as much beauty and value to your property as any other garden element. A thriving vegetable garden starts from the seed, and the first step to healthy seeds is indoor seeding.

What to Seed Indoors

The first step to seeding indoors is knowing what you’ll be seeding so you can plan in advance. Here in Ontario, we have a shorter growing season than our friends to the south. Our last frost dates can sometimes extend into mid-May, which is often too late to seed many vegetables. Seeding indoors gives us a head start on the growing season, ensuring we have a successful harvest that we can enjoy sooner. Another advantage of an early start is that it negates the need for chemical fertilizers to speed things along.

Heat-loving plants, like tomatoes and peppers, should definitely be started indoors. While many other vegetables can benefit from a head start on the growing season, others are quite content being sown right into the ground. Root vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and turnip can withstand a light freeze. Beans, peas, and salad greens also don’t mind a little chill and can be sown into the ground or started indoors a few weeks early.

When to Start Seeds Indoors in Ontario

One of the biggest challenges of starting seeds indoors is knowing when to start them. This is due to the many factors that influence timing. The recommended dates you might find on a seeding calendar take into account the different growing timelines of different vegetables, as well as the last expected frost date of your region. But it’s not an exact science. Keep in mind that, depending on the conditions you provide and the climate patterns of the year, the ‘perfect’ date is pretty unpredictable.

Here in Southern Ontario, our last expected frost date for the year is sometime during the first week of May. Tomatoes and peppers need the longest time to be cozied up indoors at 6-8 weeks. Now that we’re in early March, we suggest you get peppers started ASAP if you haven’t already, and give them lots of light. Start your tomatoes in another week or two, depending on the variety, sticking them near a bright window once they begin to sprout. Broccoli and cauliflower can be started as soon as March rolls over to April, while cucumber, zucchini, and salad greens can wait until the middle of the month. When April showers bring May flowers, you can direct seed other vegetables into the ground!

How to Seed Indoors and the Materials You Need

Now that we’ve got the timing all straightened out, the process of seeding indoors is actually pretty simple! But before you start sowing your peppers and tomatoes, there are some materials you’ll need first:

Containers: The most important aspect of picking out containers is making sure they have enough drainage - you don’t want to drown your seeds before they even get a chance at life! Seeding trays with many individual cells are great choices since they can hold plenty of seedlings at once and don’t take up much space. Wash them well with soapy water first, to make sure they’re sterile and safe for your young plants.

Soil: Soil requirements will vary between different vegetables, but generally most plants will flourish in a mix of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. Never use dirt from your backyard for planting seeds indoors, you’ll likely be bringing unwanted pests into your home.

Lights: Light requirements will depend on what your particular seed needs for germination. While some need bright and direct sunlight right away, others don’t want to see the sun until they poke through the soil in search of light. While light from the window is great, bright, artificial light is often used as a supplement.

Once you have these three materials (and your seeds, of course), you’re ready to start planting! Follow the instructions on the packaging carefully to provide your seeds with the proper conditions they need to germinate. Use a sterile potting mix to cover seeds that need complete darkness to grow. Cover the container with a clear plastic dome to trap moisture, creating the humid environment required for germination.

Once the seedlings begin to poke through, you can remove the cover and let the oxygen flow. Remove any weak plants, allowing the strong ones to grow even stronger. It’s better to have a few great plants than plenty of unproductive ones. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. We recommend misting instead of watering, to prevent disturbing the soil.

Starting Seeds Indoors Without Grow Lights

While grow lights are super effective and allow you to start seeds anywhere in your home, they aren’t always the first thing new gardeners want to invest in. Plus, keeping these lights on for hours on end every day can definitely drive up your light bill, and isn’t a necessary use of energy. The good news is that you don’t need fancy grow lights to germinate seeds indoors, especially if you have plenty of windows.

The trick to maximizing sunlight is to place your growing trays in front of large, south- or west-facing windows. Be mindful of hills or trees that might block the sun in these parts of your home. Usually, the upper level of your home is your best bet!

Moving Your Plants Outdoors

While it’s important to get the timing right when it comes to starting seeds indoors, it’s also important when moving them outdoors. The beauty of indoor seeding is that you don’t have to be in such a rush to bring them outdoors, you’ve already given yourself the time to wait until the risk of frost has passed.

That being said, you don’t want to wait too long, or else your veggies’ growth might taper. You’ll know when your seedlings are ready to graduate from their containers to the ground when they begin to grow leaves. Don’t be fooled by the first leaves of your baby sprouts, as these are nourished by the seed. The true leaves develop afterward, indicating that the plant’s roots are now established enough to sustain the plant itself. Once you reach this stage, congratulations! Your seedlings are now ready for your beautiful vegetable garden.

No one likes to be thrown into an unfamiliar environment or situation, and the same goes for our tender new plants. They’ve been safe and cozy inside our warm homes for weeks, and now they’re being introduced to the great outdoors. Just like we sometimes get a ‘base tan’ before we head down South to prevent burning to a crisp, our seedlings need to be introduced to the sunlight gradually. Bring them outside on a cloudy day for a few hours first, and increase by an hour each day for a week or so to ‘harden them off’ before planting them outside for good.

Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or you’re just beginning your gardening journey, these simple steps to indoor seeding are all you need to get started. Soon enough, your flourishing veggie garden will be the cornerstone of your recipes and the envy of your neighbours!

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