Here in southern Connecticut (USDA Zone 7a), late winter through early spring is the time to start seeds indoors, because frost-tender plants like tomatoes cannot go into the garden until mid to late May. However, those seeds can be started indoors weeks before they go out into the garden. Also, you can get a jump on the growing season by putting plants in the garden rather than sowing seed directly in the soil.
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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 wishbooks, but they also contain tons of information on different varieties, disease resistant plants, and information on how to grow each variety. Click on the link for a list of where to get free catalogs: 87 Free Seed Catalogs
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. I’ve even bought seeds at Dollar Tree – 5 packets for $1.00! For special or unusual varieties, I buy from catalogs, online seed suppliers, and the annual Connecticut Flower & Garden Show.
Indoor Seed Starting (the easy way)
To grow, seeds need warmth, moisture and light. My secret? What I have been using for the past 10 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 – 7 easy steps
- 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 by scratching off a little of the peat, using the tip of a pencil
- Cover each peat plug with the little clear plastic caps that come with the Aerogarden
- Plug in the Aerogarden and 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.
Nutrients for Your Seedlings
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 10 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.
And that is IT!
Once the seedlings get a few sets of leaves on them, and the soil has warmed up, it will be time to plant them in your new vegetable garden.
Congratulations! You have just started seeds indoors!!