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Friday, February 5, 2010

Start Your Own Seeds and Planting Guide

If you're going to grow your own veggies--something I'm hoping you're going to do--you have to plant seeds. Many seeds are best sown directly in the ground, mainly due to the number of plants that you will have. These include carrots, peas, beans, corn, spinach, and beets.

Many plants will benefit from being started indoors weeks before planting time. One of the best reasons to start seeds indoors is that you will extend your growing season. Many veggies need a long growing period before harvest, and starting seeds ahead of time gives your plants extra growing time. Now, you could go to the nursery in spring and purchase plants already started. But, when it's so easy to do, why pay someone else to do it for you! You'll save money and learn a new self-reliant skill when you start the plants yourself. (And if your seedlings fail, you can always rely on the store for backup! I had to do that last year with one of my tomato varieties.)

First off, you need to figure out what you're going to plant and buy your seeds, if you don't have them already saved from years past. Seeds that lend themselves well to starting indoors are tomatoes, cukes, squashes, pumpkins, peppers, and melons, among others. You need containers which can be plastic planting trays, peat pots, plastic cups, small terra cotta planters, or any kind of container you have available. Even dixie cups will work! There's a wide spectrum of containers you can use. Just make sure they're washed clean and have good drainage ability.

Buy or make a good seed starting compound (equal parts perlite, vermiculite, and peat). Fill your little containers with the compound and add 2-3 seeds or the number recommended on the seed packet. Mist them lightly with a spray bottle or put your trays in water so they wick it up from the bottoms. Many seed starting trays come with a plastic cover. If yours don't have this, cover your pots with plastic wrap to form a warm moist greenhouse-like environment. Put your pots in a sunny window, near a heat vent or under a light to add heat. In a few days your seeds will hopefully sprout! What a wonderful day that is!! You're going to feel so proud!

Now your seedings definitely need light, so use that sunny window or fluorescent grow lights. (I find that my sister's seeds in the window with natural light grow much better than mine do with fluorescent light, so if you have natural light take advantage of it!) Keep the light 2 inches above the tray and move the light up as the plants grow. Obviously, you'll need to remove the plastic cover or plastic wrap as the seedlings grow, too. Keep your seedlings moist, but not soaking. Bottom watering is best to encourage those roots to go deep, but any water is better than none! Every day run your hand over the seedlings very gently to 'toughen them up' a bit.

If your plants get too big and it's not yet time to set them out in the garden, you'll need to repot them in larger containers. Do this very gently, disturbing the plants and roots as little as possible. About a week before planting outdoors, bring your plants outside to a shaded, weather-protected area for a few hours. Every day, expose them to a little more sun and wind to harden them off and get them ready to make it in your garden.

Once the ground is ready for plants, set them out and watch them grow! Feel proud of what you did! I always think the garden looks so funny in spring. The garden area is so large, and all of those seedling are sooooo tiny! Tend those plants like the babies that they are, and hopefully they'll reward you with a bountiful harvest. (We'll talk later about how to take care of that harvest!)

Here is a great link to to a page that will show you the approximate last frost date in spring in Illinois, and approximate first frost day in fall. Use this as your guide to know when to plant seeds and seedlings outside.

Prep on!
Gen-IL Homesteader


upinak said...

Gen, don't forget to freeze your seeds! It helps them germinate faster. *wink*

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe spring is around the corner. Your making me so excited. This is the first year I'm starting almost everything indoors. Trying for a survival garden this year. Hopefully we don't starve. lol

Gen-IL Homesteader said...

I didn't know that, upinka! Thanks for the hint. So, you freeze every seed packet you buy? For how long?

Shelly, I know!!! It's so hard to believe that we can start planting things soon! So, what all are you growing this year?? (And,I'm sure you won't starve!!!)
When I went to the link on IL planting dates, I was surprised to see that the dates have changed, at least on that page. Normally, the last freeze date for my area is Mem Day weekend. They've actually upped the dates. It said something about how it's become 5-10 days earlier in the past few years! Sweet! That means I can plant earlier!! Woo-Hoo!

upinak said...

Hey Gen :)

Yep i freeze all my seeds. Go look in the AK preppers and look for the "Choosing your seeds for the AK Midnight Sun". I talk about what to choose for up here and why you should freeze them. I have tried both ways. And freezing them for about a week in your freezer works faster then normal growing. Try it sometime. Grab two packets of the same thing you are going to grow a lot of. Freeze one for a week. Then plant the seeds at the same time, making sure that you make which ones were "frozen" and see if there are a difference.

Trust this Alaskan, we like to get things growing as FAST as we can due to our short growing season!

Anonymous said...

Living in N.W. Ohio I usually plant around May 15. I am growing as much as I can. I'm going to try my hand at root crops this year. I've never grown carrots or potatoes, and grow everything else from tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, corn, pumpkins, beans, squash, melons, etc... My goal is to get my pantry stocked with as much homegrown stuff as possible and supplementing with store bought food. Right now it is the opposite.

Gen-IL Homesteader said...

Upinka, I'm going to try that this year! Anything that will get the seeds going faster is a good thing! I'll let you know the results!

Shelly, I know what you mean. So much of what we eat comes from the store. Every year I try to grow and can more than the year before. I would love it if the majority of the food in my pantry was canning jars and not store bought jars! It's getting there slowly but surely. I haven't had any success with melons yet, but I keep trying! (well, 1 year I got 1 watermelon!)Usually I get some fruits to start, but then something will cause them to die! It drives me crazy! Any thoughts?

I have to say that I love having some new 'gardening buddies'! Thanks, guys!

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