It is possible to have a nice vegetable garden by buying young plants, but gardeners have a much wider range of possibilities for less money by starting plants from seeds indoors. Seeds can be planted inside about six weeks before time to put the plants in the ground.
Seeds are economical and come in many more varieties than plants for sale locally. Using seeds will give the home gardener a chance to experiment with different varieties and choose those that produce the best results.
Starting seeds can be as complicated as heat mats and grow lights or as easy as a sunny window and a spot on top of the refrigerator or near a heat register. Those new to growing seeds may want to take the easy route instead of investing in equipment and then finding the process is not something they want to do each spring.
Often gardeners are instructed to plant seeds about six weeks before the last frost. “What I have found works much better,” says Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Garden, “is to think about when the night temperatures in your garden regularly reach the 50- 55°F (10-13°C) range and then count back 4-6 weeks from that to start these warm weather-loving seeds. In much of the country, that means you don't need to start warm season seeds indoors until mid-March. In the cold winter areas, the right time can be the middle of April”
Start with small peat pots and sterile seed-starting mix and follow the directions on the seed packet for depth of planting and light and water requirements. Since the small seeds are at the top of the container, the soil on the top needs to be kept moist. Most seeds benefit from a light layer of plastic wrap until germination occurs.
Follow the light recommendations on the package, but most plants benefit from a sunny window. When temperatures begin to warm, plants can be put outside for short periods of time until they are ready to be put into the ground.
Starting vegetable plants indoors when the temperature outside is cold will not only produce plants for the garden, but is a fun way to anticipate spring.