In the Pacific Northwest, it’s the time of year when veggie gardeners are prepping for bountiful Spring harvests by planting spring veggies indoors from seed to produce healthy, strong starts. We planted some indoor seed starts about a week ago that are happily cooking away in our greenhouse. I know most people don’t have the luxury of their own greenhouse, so I’ve compiled some helpful information below about getting seeds to sprout into starts that will produce flavorful vegetables.

Green Thumb Tips
Most seed packets, such as Restoration Seeds, Baker Creek, and Seed Savers Exchange, have simple directions on the back which can be used as a guideline for planting outdoors. If you’re planting indoors due to a colder climate, plan to start the seeds earlier than the designated zones suggested on the package. A good rule of thumb for planting seeds is to put them in the soil three times deeper than they are wide. This should provide the optimum setting for seeds to get enough sunlight to germinate. If growing indoors, look for the sunniest spot in your house. You can use a wide window seat area, or just look for a place on your kitchen counter that gets at least 8-12 hours of light. You can also purchase a lamp or a kit to provide extra light for your seedlings (some need up to 16 hours), and adjust the angle as your plants sprout and grow.

eggcarton

Snap Pea and Tomato seeds in recycled egg cartons.

Types of Pots
We planted our seeds in 4-inch pots with potting soil and a bit of organic fertilizer, and head out to the greenhouse daily to ensure they don’t get too dry – or are developing mold from being too wet. You can purchase a seed tray or starter kit if you’re nervous about knowing what kind of pots would work best in your growing environment. Recycling some types of containers like egg cartons works well for germinating seeds too. Seeds also like a warm environment (65+ degrees). A good trick for creating enough warmth for your seeds to sprout is to place some plastic wrap around the top of each pot. Most starter kits and trays come with a plastic lid that simulates a “greenhouse” effect.

Keeping Seeds Watered
While seeds require plenty of water, too much H2O will cause them to rot. The soil your seed is planted in should be moist, but not overly wet. Seeds are very good at absorbing moisture from the soil around them, so it’s important to check your soil daily to ensure it’s getting enough moisture.

Next Steps
Once you see some good growth happening in your starter pots, remove any plastic wrap or lids so they can breathe in some fresh air. Plenty of light and water is still important at this stage. When the starts are getting too friendly with each other (i.e., crowding) it’s time to thin them out. You can use scissors to gently trim down to the base, or simply pull out what you don’t want. Thinning allows each start to get large and robust, helping ensure the ones you transplant to your outside garden have the best chance of surviving bad weather and bugs for hearty homegrown veggies all season long!

Editor’s note: This article was first published in March 2011, and due to the high demand for healthy organic food, we are re-publishing this primer for our readers interest.