Getting Your Garden Started Part 2: Starting Plants

Many people enjoy starting their own plants indoors in the late winter and early spring–I know I do! One of the highlights of dreary January and February is when the seed catalogs arrive! Oh how I adore sitting down with a cup of coffee and a stack of beautiful catalogs showing pictures of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs, and squash! And when I have made my mile-long selection and placed my order, that long wait for the seeds to show up makes me feel like a kid waiting for Christmas! And when those tiny little seeds show up on my doorstep! I just love, love, love getting my hands in dirt and carefully placing the seeds and waiting for sprouts. Then when the sprouts show up I feel like I’ve witnessed a miracle!

If you have never started your own seeds, seriously, you must try. If you decide it’s not for you, then obviously come buy our plants. But I’m willing to bet that you will fall in love. There is nothing like picking a giant Brandywine tomato in the middle of July, knowing that just four or five months ago that plant was a teeny tiny seed in an envelope, and you are the reason it is now a 6-foot plant bearing one-and-a-half-pound fruits, big enough to slice and cover a burger.

There is, of course, a process to follow. First, you have the luxury of selecting and ordering seeds. You can buy online or request catalogs from many companies. Second, you need to have your seed trays and seed starting mix. You can buy your trays from garden stores or even use things like egg cartons or homemade cups. I’ve even seen these made out of newspaper folded into a cup shape–how resourceful! As for your seed starting mix, you can buy that in a garden store or even make your own if you need a large amount. We have found this option quite cost-efficient, but we need quite a lot. A seed starting mix, as opposed to potting mix is very important as it contains just the right nutrients for kick starting growth and also because it is sterile, which is important for your baby plants. Once they grow a little bit (for most plants it’s when there are four leaves), you will need to pot your seedlings into a pot that will house them for several weeks (you want to be sure to have a pot that is big enough to encourage growth but not too big as to suffocate the roots), and at that point you can use a regular potting mix.

Now, all plants will need a certain length of time to germinate (sprout) and grow mature enough to pot and then transplant into the ground. What you want to do is learn the proper time for transplanting and count back the number of weeks by looking at your seed packet or even consulting a book or website. Tomatoes, for example, need about 6-8 weeks indoors before they can be transplanted. In this part of South Carolina, we know that tomatoes can be transplanted in late April or early May (we personally do not put our tomatoes in the ground until at least May 1, being cautious of the threat of a late frost and also cognizant of the tomatoes’ preference for warm temperatures). So, we typically start our tomatoes in early March.

After you have started your seeds, you need to check them every day and give them water as they need it. As soon as you see sprouts, they need sunlight, and they will need warmth. Different seedlings will like different temperatures, but basically if everything is kept at room temperature, you’re fine.

In a nutshell, here is your timeline:
1. Acquire seeds, seed trays, and seed starting mix.
2. Assess your timeline from germination to transplanting.
3. Care for seedlings, potting when necessary. Water, light, temperature, etc.
4. Transplant at proper time.

And that’s it!

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