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How to Start Vegetable Seeds Indoors

Some vegetables, like Tomatoes , Eggplants and Peppers , require a long growing season so most gardeners start seeds indoors in spring or purchase seedlings (transplants). Starting your own seeds is not only less expensive, it's also a fun, rewarding and a great way to get a jump start on the gardening season. Here are some tips to help you be successful.

  • Purchase seed-starting mix. These mixes don't contain any actual soil, but they provide ideal conditions for sprouting seeds. Most importantly, they provide a good balance of drainage and water-holding capacity. And because they're sterile, they minimize problems with disease on vulnerable seedlings. Don't use garden soil to start seeds indoors; it generally doesn't drain well and may contain plant disease spores.
  • Make sure your containers have drainage holes. You can use recycled pots -- yogurt containers, for example, but be sure to poke holes in the bottom. Plastic six-packs and flats are good choices and can be reused year after year. Biodegradable pots are fine, too.
  • Plant seeds at the proper depth. Check the seed packet for planting depth. You don't need to measure, but if it says "1/4" don't plant the seed an inch deep. The rule of thumb is to plant the seed two to three times as deep as it is wide. Tiny seeds should be barely covered by soil mix, while large seeds like beans should be sown about an inch deep. Sow seeds too deeply and they won't have enough stored energy to make it to the surface. Plant extra seeds because it's likely not all of them will germinate; you'll thin out the extra ones later.
  • Keep seed-starting mix moist. Seedling roots need both air and water. Strive to keep the mix moist but not saturated with water -- think of it as a damp sponge that contains both water and air.
  • After sowing, set the containers in a warm location. On top of the refrigerator or near a radiator are usually good spots. Check pots every day.
  • As soon as seedlings emerge, place pots in a bright location. A sunny window will do but supplemental fluorescent lights will give you the best results. Suspend the lights just an inch or two over the tops of the plants.
  • Cool room temperature is best. You'll get sturdier, stockier seedlings at temperatures in the high 60s. At higher temperatures seedlings may get leggy.
  • Begin fertilizing weekly. Use a half-strength fertilizer once the seedling has one or two sets of leaves. Organic fertilizers are a good choice since they provide a range of nutrients, including micronutrients.
  • Once seedlings have two sets of leaves, it's time to thin. You want one seedling per pot, so choose the healthiest, strongest-looking seedling and snip off other seedlings at the soil line and discard them.

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