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A Need for Seed – Getting A Jump Start on Your Vegetable Garden

If your green thumb is sprouting a bit early, why not begin your vegetable garden indoors and get a jump on the season?

As any good gardener knows, sunlight is key. So before you begin, make sure there is plenty of sunlight. If that’s not available, cool white fluorescent bulbs are a good substitute. Seeds can be started in any type of container such as trays, flats, pots, egg cartons or paper cups.

The container size will depend on the plant you’re growing. Punch a hole in the bottom for drainage. Fiber or peat pots need to be soaked well before adding soil.

Soil is the second part of the equation. To ensure your seeds have a good start, the soil should be sterile. You can buy a good commercial medium or you can sterilize soil from your garden by adding equal parts of soil, peat moss or compost, sand, vermiculite or perlite.

Bake the mixture in the oven for two hours at 170 to 180 degrees. Then fill the mixture to within 1/4′ of the container top and level off. Soak the soil thoroughly and allow to drain.

Now you’re ready to sow the seeds. Make a hole four times as deep as the seed is wide with your finger or pencil.

Plant two or three seeds per compartment and water lightly. A thin layer of soil should cover seeds that are fine. Water the plants as they grow but avoid over watering. Some gardeners cover the containers with plastic wrap or plastic bags to promote germination, but those should be removed once you see the sprouts or the seedlings will suffocate. Choose a spot that is 60 degrees at night and between 70 and 75 degrees during the day. Once the seedlings emerge, thin to one per pot by pinching off or carefully pulling out the excess plants.

Place the seedlings in a window facing south or southwest and have the fluorescent bulb 6 inches above the plants. These sprouts need 12 to 16 hours of light a day. Check the seedlings regularly so they donÂ’t dry out. After three weeks, begin applying fertilizer once a week at the rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water.

The vegetables are ready for transplant when they sprout two new leaves. A few days before transplanting the seedlings to your garden, harden them by gradually exposing them to outside conditions. Keep them outdoors for a few hours each day, extending the time as moving day approaches. Water both the ground and seedlings to prevent transplant shock, then enjoy a bountiful harvest.

Ground Ready
How soon can you begin prepping your plants? Here’s a guideline, by week, of how long it takes to go from seed to ground:

From Seed to Ground:  
Broccoli 5-7 weeks
Brussel Sprouts 5-7 weeks
Cabbage 5-7 weeks
Cauliflower 5-7 weeks
Celery 7-12 weeks
Lettuce 5-7 weeks
Onion 8-10 weeks
Parsley 8-10 weeks
Peppers 6-8 weeks
Tomato 6-8 weeks
Cantaloupe 3-4 weeks
Cucumbers 3-4 weeks
Squash 3-4 weeks