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Winter storms are still a threat and it’s chilly outside. Seeds planted outside won’t grow in this cold! But spring is nearly here and it’s the perfect time to start growing indoors. You can get a head start, and when summer does arrive you will be first in town with fresh veggies and blooming flowers.

Decide on what you want and buy the seeds!

It’s possible for you to buy young plants from home and garden centers and continue to grow them indoors. It’s more expensive than buying seeds though. Not only that, the varieties of seeds available online is much more! This idea is backed by Melinda Myers, a Milwaukee-based gardener and author or more than 20 horticulture books. So I guess that concludes any arguments if there are any! You may get more seeds than you can handle but no issues. Just store them away in a sealed packet in a cool and dry place for next year.

Your seed packets will have a lot of useful information and will mention if you can grow it indoors. In general though, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, eggplants, cauliflower, melons and squashes can all be started successfully indoors.

Get containers.

A number of items make for good indoors growing. Empty yogurt cups, flower pots, cardboard boxes, egg shells etc. are easily available container material that will get the job done. You can be a little innovative by placing newspaper loosely over the container you’re using so that when it’s time to transplant you can place the entire newspaper filled with soil mixture into the garden (newspaper is biodegradable). You may reuse old containers, just be sure to disinfect them by cleansing with a diluted bleach solution (1 cup of bleach: 9 cups of water). In fact, you

Next to a sunlit window

Next to a sunlit window

should disinfect everything you use to avoid fungi or diseases from infecting your plants.

Another necessity with the containers is that they should have adequate space for roots to grow as the plant gets bigger and that they let excess water drain out.

A place to grow

Seeds need warmth to sprout. Pick a convenient spot; the basement or a window that lets in a lot of sunlight for warmth. Or place the containers next to the refrigerator or use a heating pad. Once the seedlings germinate they require light so move it into an area which gets sunlight or provide artificial light.

Growing medium

Seeds are self-starters; they contain all the nutrients necessary for them to germinate. They require constant moisture, plenty of air space and warmth. The soil should be soft enough for the young roots to penetrate so don’t use garden soil as it hardens into a thick mass.

You can create your own seed starting soil mix by combining even parts of vermiculite or perlite with peat moss, milled sphagnum moss, coir or well-screened compost. Make sure to sterilize them all.

Or you could buy bagged seed-starting mix. Grow in the starting medium till true leaves appear. Then move them into a nutrient rich organic soil mixture. This is important because at this stage the plant needs all the important nutrients, water and loads of light.

Sow the seeds at the right time

Sow the seeds at least an inch apart or as you deem fit. Your seed packets will have a lot of information with recommended planting times etc., so make sure to use it. Make a calculated decision about everything from moisture and warmth for seeds to enough light indoors for young plants to transplanting them outdoors.

Watering

“It’s almost impossible to water correctly, so drainage holes in your containers are critical”, claims Myers. Yes, watering is the trickiest part of indoor gardening. You can use a mist bottle for newly planted seeds. Basically, moisten the soil without washing away the seeds. Check for moisture levels every day and covering with a damp newspaper or plastic helps keep in the warmth and moist.

Lighting

Most gardeners prefer to supplement sunlight with artificial inexpensive fluorescent lights which they testify work well. It’s important to rig the lights so as to be able to move them up and down. It’s appropriate to keep the artificial light source 3-4 inches above the plant as they grow. Be careful to not use incandescent bulbs because if they are that close to the plant the heat from it will destroy it. Provide proper amounts of light, in general 16-18 hours of light will do.

Make notes

This is very important if you are starting a lot of seeds. It’s not hard to forget which seed is what. They all look quite the same until their true leaves sprout. Besides, most of us are absent-minded. No harm in labeling your containers, noting down planted dates etc. Believe me, no harm at all! Also next year your task will be simpler and you can compare and improvise!

Sowing timetable           

Here’s a general sowing pattern for various plants. Check your seed packets though, different varieties act differently! To know when to start indoors, find out the approximate last date of frost in your area and count backwards from that date the number of weeks indicated on your seed packets (or as indicated below) as the time required for maturity.

  • 12-14 weeks: onions, leeks, chives, pansies, impatiens, coleus
  • 8-12 weeks: peppers, lettuce, cabbage-family plants, petunias, snapdragons, alyssum
  • 6-8 weeks: eggplants, tomatoes
  • 5-6 weeks: zinnias, marigolds
  • 2-4 weeks: cucumbers, melons, okra, pumpkins, squash

Good luck!