How to Start Seeds Indoors: Part 2 – Choosing which Veggies to Start Inside
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Starting seeds indoors is an outstanding way to decrease the costs of home vegable gardening, and to get a jump start on the season. With just a few supplies to get you started, you can grow your own vegetables from seed for just a fraction of the cost of potted vegetables from the garden store.
Not veggies should be started from seed, however, and you may have limited space and need to make choices about which seeds to include in your seed starting plan. This article shares simple strategies for choosing which seeds to start inside based on three primary questions:
- Does the vegetable do better as a transplant than direct seeding?
- How many plants do you want of a given vegetable in your garden?
- Are you looking for unique varieties?
Which Vegetables do Better as Transplants?
The first question – which veggies do better as transplants – is most easily answered by reading a seed packet or getting information directly from the seed company. In general, greens and root veggies are two categories of veggies that do not benefit from starting indoors.
Greens can be planted quite early in the garden and will grow quickly, so unless you really want to get a head start on lettuce you might not want to dedicate limited seed starting space to veggies in this category.
Root vegetables aren’t good for starting indoors because transplanting them would be difficult. These veggies grow down into the soil, so moving them from a small pot into the ground is both time consuming and really not necessary. So, directions for things like carrots, beets, and potatoes will definitely have you plant directly into the garden.
Plants that grow on vines are another candidate for direct-garden planting. Peas and beans, for example, can be planted early on in the garden and typically need to be trellised. While you can plant these in advance, you really don’t gain much because they will grow just fine within the span of your gardening season. Cucumbers can go either way, but sometimes benefit from being planted indoors and getting a head start so that they are producing well before the high heat of mid-summer (during which they will often start to wilt).
On the other hand, veggies like onions, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, and melons are great candidates for planting indoors. Starting them inside gives the veggies time to grow larger and stronger before they are transplanted outside, which is especially helpful when your growing season is shorter.
How Many Plants do you Want of a Given Veggie?
Just because a vegetable does better when started indoors does not necessarily mean that YOU should start it indoors. This leads us to our second question – how much of that veggie do you want?
A typical vegetable seed packet costs between $2-5 and often contains anywhere from 10 to 50 seeds. If you only really need (or want) one plant of that veggie in your garden, is it worth buying a whole packet? Seed packets can be stored, if carefully packed up and temperature controlled, for a few years. However, after that time their germination rate (the number of seeds that will actually come up when planted) can decrease.
If, for example, you really only need one zucchini plant to feed your family, you could buy a zucchini seedling at your garden center for almost the same cost as a package of seeds. You wouldn’t need to spend time or money on planting, soil, light, etc. You also wouldn’t waste the rest of the seeds in the packet.
On the other hand, if you love making tomato sauce you may want to plant a dozen or more tomato plants in your garden, which would make more sense for seed starting. Planting one packet of roma tomatoes at $2.79 could result in at least a dozen – or up to 30! – plants, thus making the final costs for each plant a huge bargain compared to buying tomato seedlings.
The amount of space you have in your seed starting operation is also important to consider when deciding what to plant ahead of time. Generally, if we only want one of something and it would be easy to get it at the garden center we skip wasting space on it in our grow light stand.
Are you Looking for Unique Vegetable Varieties?
While the first two considerations are practical in nature, this one is more about making your garden fun and unique. If you want to try growing Purple Crush Cauliflower, Bulgarian Carrot Chilis, or Tasmanian Chocolate Tomatoes (cause who wouldn’t want to try those?!), you just aren’t going to find varieties like that at your local garden store. And yet, trying new varieties is part of what makes having a vegetable garden fun.
Treat yourself to a few new varieties each year even if you only grow a few of each; the packets will last at least another year, and maybe you can trade seeds with a neighbor or friend if you are both picking a few cool options.
Starting seeds indoors is part science, part art, part experimentation. Each year, you’ll learn something new about the vegetables you try starting. Keep having fun, and get those hands dirty!
Once you’ve decided what you are going to plant, you’ll then need to create a plan for when to get the seeds started – instructions for creating a seed starting schedule are coming up next!