It is now time to start planting some vegetable seeds indoors.
No matter how many times I plant seeds, it never ceases to amaze me how everything a plant needs to grow and flourish is inside of the tough seed coat.
When you consider the size of a tomato seed (which is larger than most seeds) and think about what that tiny seed is capable of producing, it just is quite amazing.
The Hindi word for seed is bija, which translates literally to “containment of life.” I love that definition. Seeing seeds start to germinate in spring has a way of bringing us hope after a long winter.
Here are some questions that I get asked about sowing vegetable seeds.
Q: Do you have to start all vegetable seeds indoors or can you plant them directly outside when the time comes?
A: Crops that are best started indoors include warm season vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, eggplant, cabbage and tomatoes.
Those with a slower root development, like cauliflower, celery, eggplant and peppers, should also be started indoors.
Some vegetables take more days to harvest than others and you can give them a head start by starting them indoors as well and get more produce from them. Starting seeds inside allows you to gain a few precious weeks of growing time, which can really make a difference.
Seeds for summer vegetables like beans, corn, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons and zucchini can be directly planted into the ground around May 23.
Q: When is the best time to start sowing seeds?
A: The best time to be sowing most vegetable seed indoors is about six weeks prior to the last frost. According to the Farmer’s Almanac for Niagara region, the last frost date for 2023 is predicted for May 7. Therefore, most seeds should be started in the next week or so.
Q: What soil is best for planting seeds in?
A: Trick question. The answer is a mix that actually contains no soil at all. Most seed mixes contain a blend of mainly vermiculite, perlite and peat moss – and no soil.
This makes the medium light and airy for easy root growth. It also aids in moisture retention while still allowing for good drainage. So when you are looking for the right “soil” in the store, look for a seed starter mix or a potting mix – not a potting soil.
Make sure you moisten the potting mix before planting the seeds.
Q: What kind of container is best to start the seeds in?
A: The easiest way to get started is to purchase a seed starting tray that holds water, some pots or cells packs and a clear plastic dome.
The clear dome placed over the pots in the tray helps to hold the moisture in until the seeds begin to germinate. If you like to recycle or use less plastic, you can always make your own containers to plant the seeds in.
There are endless ideas online on what can be used – egg cartons, eggshells, newspaper, even toilet paper rolls. Just make sure that it has good drainage.
Q: How deep do I plant the seeds?
A: Always check your seed packages for depth, but in general fill your pots or cell pack with moistened potting mix so the soil level is just a little below the top.
Very lightly compress the soil mix with your fingers. Disperse seeds on the surface of the soil. Then lightly cover the seeds with a thin topping of more soil.
Most seeds do not need to be very deep at all, so make sure you are not putting too much on top of them. Lightly and gently water the soil, allowing the water to soak in.
It is OK if some water remains sitting in the tray below. Once watered, place the dome over top of the tray. You will notice condensation forming on the dome. The seeds will not need watering again until they have germinated.
Place trays near a bright sunny window. When the seedlings become visible, remove the dome permanently and start watering as required. Do not let the soil to dry out completely.
To help strengthen the seedlings, you might want to have an oscillating fan running nearby. This helps strengthen the stems of the plants and improve air circulation so that there will be fewer fungus problems such as damping off.
As seedlings start to grow, rotate the trays every couple of days to keep the plants growing straighter.
Let the seeding begin.
Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.