Want to try your hand at growing vegetables this year? It’s a fun project that can produce delicious results. The key to getting the absolute most out of Kentucky’s growing season is to start your seeds indoors. If you’d like to give it a try, here are some tips to get you growing!
Many people wait until later in the season and purchase young plants – known as transplants – to grow at home. And for someone without much gardening experience or time to devote, this is a great option. But per plant, seed packets are usually significantly less expensive than transplants. You also are stuck with the young plants your grow shop has in store, generally just one or two varieties of each vegetable. The same store might have five or more varieties of seeds available for the same veggie! There are also a lot of vegetables that grow best from seed.
Refer to your seed packet, but most plants should be started six-to-eight weeks before the last frost of the season. For Lexington, the average predicted last light freeze is around April 20th, but old folks’ wisdom is to never count on planting anything before (a normal year’s) Derby day. For most of us, we’d be preparing our seedlings between March 6th and 20th.
February may be too early to start the process, but it’s exactly the right time to gather your materials. A very big step is to get any seeds you haven’t already purchased or gathered. Look for local seed swaps to learn more about plants that thrive in our local climate, or consult a pro at your local gardening shop. This is especially important if you have questions about your soil!
The first thing you’ll need is a seed-starting mix, or special seed- starting plugs. This ensures that your plants germinate in a disease-free setting that drains well. Place the seeds in clean containers that have drainage holes in the bottom. And from experience, be sure to label each and every container. You’ll thank me!
One easy way to up your chance of success is to plant the seed at the correct depth. Your seed packet should include instructions. If you’ve gotten your seeds second-hand or from last year’s harvest, a good rule of thumb is to plant a seed 2-to-3 times deeper than the seed’s width. Be sure to plant more than you need: some will never germinate while others may come out a little shrimpy. You can cull the spares later.
Set your containers in a warm (but not hot!) location where they won’t be disturbed by pets or kids. Keep the seedling mix moist – but not saturated – with water.
Once the seedlings emerge, it’s time for a move. They will need bright light, whether from a sunny window or a fluorescent light. Rotate plants periodically to be sure everyone’s getting equal time in the spotlight. You should also consider placing them in a spot that’s a bit cooler, around the upper 60s. This results in stronger seedlings.
If you plan on fertilizing, wait until your plants have a couple sets of leaves. Use a fertilizer at half-strength weekly. This is also the time to start thinning.
We’ll talk about “hardening off” and transplanting your seedlings closer to the right time. In the meantime, enjoy this time with your new babies!