Here in in southern New England, late winter through early spring is the time for starting seeds indoors!
My first priority is to get some vegetable plants started. In Connecticut, tomatoes, herbs and other frost-tender plants cannot go into the garden until mid-May. But, so many vegetables and herbs can be easily started from seed indoors, and they will be mature enough in May when it’s time to go out into the garden.
Where to buy seeds
I think every gardener pours over seed catalogs on snowy winter days. The photos of beautiful crops get us dreaming of warm summer days outside tending the garden, and wishing spring would hurry up and get here!
Not only are catalogs wish books, but they also contain great information on different varieties, disease resistant plants, and information on how to grow each variety. There’s a list with where to get catalogs here: Save Money by Growing Your Own Food.
You can also get seeds at garden centers, Home Depot, Lowe’s and hardware stores. I get many common varieties from a local discount store where seeds are 40-50% off the list price. For special or unusual varieties, I buy from catalogs, online seed suppliers, and the annual Connecticut Flower & Garden Show.
Once I have all my seeds, it’s time to get them started.
The first seeds I start are tomatoes, since I like to plant them outside when they are about 8″ tall. Getting them started now will give them enough time to get to that size.
My indoor seed starting set-up
To grow, seeds need warmth, moisture and light. What I have been using for the past 7 years, is an Aerogarden. The model I have is a small, fits-in-a-corner style, and it has the capacity for 6 plants.
There are different sizes and capacities available, but this one works perfect for me. Once the seeds start and get a few leaves on them, I transplant the seedlings into small pots and then start another round of seeds in the Aerogarden.
Setting up the Aerogarden
Fill the Aerogarden with water
Place the lid back on
Insert peat plugs into the holes in the lid
A new Aerogarden will come with some peat plugs. Once you use them up, you can get more, but these are far less expensive than the name brand.
Place one or two seeds in the hole of each peat plug
Cover the seeds with peat, using the tip of a pencil
Cover each planted plug with the little clear plastic caps that come with the Aerogarden
Push the button!
Once all the peat plugs are planted, push the button on the Aerogarden that corresponds to what you have planted. Since I planted tomatoes and pepper seeds, I set mine for Vegetables. The other choices are herbs, flowers, salad greens and live plants.
If you have raised up the light assembly during planting, move it down to the lowest setting so it is closer to the newly planted seeds. As the plants grow, you just move the light assembly up so the leaves aren’t touching the light bulbs. Once the garden is plugged in, the grow lights will turn on and off automatically depending on the chosen setting, and give the seedlings enough light and heat. I also skootch my houseplants close to the garden so they too can benefit from the grow lights.
The Aerogarden comes with fertilizer tablets that are added when the red light for “add nutrients” comes on. Since I grow my edibles organically, I use fish emulsion diluted with room temperature water.
Hardening off the seedlings
Before the plants can be planted directly into the garden, they need to acclimate to the cooler temperature outside. Remember, these little babies have been growing in a nice warm and well-lit indoor environment! When they get to be a few inches tall, and have a few sets of leaves, I transplant them into 3-4″ plastic pots with a mixture of potting soil and seed starting soil. I find that the potting soil is too dense for their tiny root system, and the seed starting mix (that comes in bags) is too fluffy, dry and light to hold enough water. I make a 50/50 mix of both types of planting medium in a 5 gallon bucket, and use that for transplants.
Once transplanted, the plants now go into the little greenhouse I set up on the back deck. I’ve had my greenhouse for at least 9 years, and it is perfect! At the end of the season, I wash it down with the garden hose, disassemble it, and store it in the garage for the next year. There’s enough room for all my seedlings, plus any plants I buy from the nursery. The plastic cover unzips, so if it gets cold, the plants are protected. During the day when it’s warm, I roll up the front of the greenhouse, and there are ties that keep it rolled neatly at the top.
There are other set-ups to use besides the Aerogarden, but after years (and years) of trial and error, I have found this method to be the easiest and most cost-effective out of any I have tried. When maintained properly, the Aerogarden and mini greenhouse will last for years!