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All You Need for Seed
Although baby plants, called seedlings, are pretty easy to buy at the garden centers, when you grow from seed it is a lot cheaper, and you also have a lot more variety to choose from. A garden center may carry 20 or even 50 types of seedling tomatoes, but would you believe there are over 10,000 varieties of seeds available through online seed suppliers?
When to Start
Different regions have different magical “planting dates” to tell you when you should start to plant your seeds outdoors. That planting date is calculated forward from the last frost. Promise me that, as enthusiastic as you are, you won’t get suckered into starting early—if the weather isn’t right or you get a frost, I’m telling you your plants will suffer. I’ve been burned so many times, and it’s not worth it—the guilt of freezing all those baby plants is something you just won’t forget.
In North America, there is a spread of 3 months during which our planting dates fall, and they are different, of course, in different regions, due to the different climates we have across the continent. If you’re on the east coast, you’ll need to wait until May 15. In the middle of the continent, May 24 is the typical ballpark date. To get an accurate planting date for your specific region, it’s best to look it up online; or ask your neighbor if they seem to know what they’re doing! Once you know this you are ready to roll.
My first time ordering seeds, I missed the little phrase on the back of several packages: “Start indoors.” It really does mean that you have to start growing the seeds indoors (in a protected place with lots of light). The seed package has a lot of info on it that you need to understand before you begin planting. This is not info to skip over as it will help you avoid #gardenfails for sure, so make sure you read it thoroughly before tossing! Some seeds need to be started indoors a full 12 weeks before they are transferred to the garden outside. This is where many new seed growers fail. Certain plants, including peppers, tomatoes and eggplants, benefit from a good head start inside, because they need lots of time to produce lots of fruit. So once you know your magical planting date, count backward on the calendar to determine the date to start indoors.
Before you plant any seeds, pay close attention to the maturity date—the length of time it will take the plant to start to produce a harvest. In northern areas, beware of plants that need more than 95 days because the time between your spring thaw and winter freeze won’t be long enough to get a crop. I tried to grow an amazing Japanese eggplant last year, and although the plant was healthy and I got fruit started, our first frost came early and I ended up with mush . . . #gardenfail (although technically it was a #seedfail)!
Depending on your timing, it might be easier to start with seed varieties that are labeled on the package as direct sow. These seeds are planted directly in the garden, so don’t have to be started indoors first. These plants are fast growers and don’t need extra time to produce a harvest. Radishes are a perfect example: They mature fast enough that you can grow a crop, harvest them and grow another round in the same spot, all within one summer.
Preparing to Seed
Once you’ve picked your seeds and figured out your timing, there are a few more things you should know. For a plant to grow from a seed, it will need light, oxygen, something to grow in, a growing medium (dirt!) and water.
Seeds need at least 12–14 hours of intense light per day. A south-facing window providing southern exposure always works (provided that a large building isn’t blocking your sunlight), but most gardeners go with a DIY growing system, using artificial light and a timer. A growing system like this allows you to control the height of the light, helping your seedlings grow straight and tall.
Carson Arthur is Canada’s go-to gardening expert. Over his 17-year career, Carson has worked with people across Canada on gardening, homesteading, and urban farming. He is also the author of “Vegetables, Chickens & Bees” published by Appetite by Random House.
Excerpted from “Vegetables, Chickens & Bees” by Carson Arthur. Copyright © 2019 Carson Arthur. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.