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How to Grow Vegetables from Seed!

If you have kids that don’t like vegetables I’ll tell you right now, the easiest way to get them to eat veggies, is to have them grow them themselves.  I say this with all the confidence of someone who doesn’t have kids.

I was, however, a child myself at one point.  That’s how I know this little method works.

My dad always had a vegetable garden.  Like me, my dad had a tiny case of OCD.  The rows were measured, everything was thinned out perfectly and he obsessed over his tomato plants.  The goal of course was to grow the biggest tomatoes possible.  Like most men, he thought bigger was better.  Much to the chagrin of my mother he’d often return from the market with carrots the size of table legs.  Once in grade 5, when the neighbourhood kids and I couldn’t find a football, we substituted with one of my dad’s potatoes.

As is the case with a lot of kids who grow up around vegetable gardens, I wanted my own vegetable to plant.  So my dad gave me some seeds for the easiest, most foolproof, fasting growing vegetable around.  The radish. Not exactly the jelly beans I had imagined growing, but I gave it a shot.  I grew those radishes and I ate them too.  I can guarantee that if I hadn’t grown them myself I never would have sat down to eat a plate of radishes.

I still love radishes!  I’ve never been able to grow them to a size that I could use in a sporting event, but there’s still satisfaction in growing them.

If you live in a colder climate like I do in Southern Ontario, where the growing season is a bit shorter than elsewhere, you have to get a head start on your plants.  This can either mean, buying pregrown plants at a nursery or … starting your own from seed at home.  The advantage to starting them at home is you can grow varieties of vegetables you just can’t get in a nursery.

 

For instance … this gal from Cubits on Etsy sells Black Organic Popcorn Seeds.  You don’t see that at your local nursery.

If you’re going BIG and growing a lot of plants, the best thing for you to invest in is a drip tray, seedling tray and lid.  You can get these at seed stores.  You may even be able to get them at one of the larger hardware stores like Lowes or Home Depot.

 

Drip Tray

 

Seedling Tray

 

(the seedling tray has long,  narrow holes, perfect for making compact little plants with deep root systems)

The seed tray gets set in the drip tray.

The drip tray catches … the drips.

 

 

If you don’t want to spend the money on or can’t find the seed tray and drip tray, all you need are a few plastic pots or even plastic cups!

 

Regardless of what pot you use, you’ll need seeding mix.

It’s different than dirt. It’s finer and it has no nutrients in it at all.

 

 

 

You have to soak the soil with water.

Before you fill your containers with the mix, squeeze out the water.

 

 

Fill your tray with the seed starter mix.

 

 

Push the dirt into each divot with your finger so it isn’t quite so “airy”.

 

 

Now it’s time to pick your seeds!

I’m going with parsley.

 

Put two or three seeds in each cell.

This way you’re guaranteed at least one plant will grow.

If they all grow, just weed out the runts.

 

Cover the seeds up with dirt.

A good rule of thumb is to cover the seed with the same depth of soil as the seed.

(A 1 mm seed will be covered with 1mm of dirt)

 

Put your plastic dome on your seed tray.  The dome helps create heat and the necessary humidity for the seeds to germinate.  As soon as your seeds sprout, remove the lid.

Keep your tray under fluorescent lights (one cool and one warm is best).

Once the seeds have sprouted, keep the tray under the lights.  You want the top of the plant to be 6-10 inches from the light source.  Any further than that and your plants will be spindly and leggy.

If you don’t have fluorescent lights, just put your tray in a sunny window.

Once your plants start growing, rotate the tray so the plants don’t get a chance to lean towards the light.

Once the plants are established and you can see they’ve developed a good root system, repot them into individual pots.  And of course you have to water these things.  But I’m fairly certain if you can recognize most of the words in this post, you’re smart enough to realize you have to water plants.

 

 

If you’re going the “cup” route … just use a nail to punch some drainage holes in the bottom of the cup.

Then fill the cup partially full with your seed starter mix.

 

Grab your seed of choice, and stick them in the dirt.

 

Because the cup is bigger than the seed tray you can put more seeds in it.  5-6 should fit.

Once the plants start growing, thin out the weak ones.

 

 

To create the humidity in the cup you need for the seeds to germinate, put some Saran Wrap over the top.

Stick your cups on a sunny windowsill.  Once they start to grow,  remove the cling wrap and gently water them when they need it.

And that’s really all there is to starting your own plants from seed.  This is a very rudimentary introduction to growing plants from seed, but there should be enough information to get you started and stop you from being scared of it.  It really isn’t very difficult.  Vegetables are easy to grow and transplant, perennial plants are a little more finicky.  Some seeds have a really tough outer shell and nicking them with a file and soaking them overnight before you plant them is a good way to jump start their germination.  The Luffah seed is a prime example of this!

Whatever you plan to grow, just Google the best way to plant the seed. Oftentimes the back of the seed pack doesn’t say anything more than how long it’ll take to grow.  That by the way is some very useful information!  When you buy your seeds, read the back of the package.  Some cucumber plants can take 70 days to grow to full size, others may take 90.  Pay attention to it.  And there’s a HUGE difference in breeds of vegetables.  A tomato is NOT just a tomato.  There are a million different varieties, each with their own pluses and negatives.  I’ve found the “Sweet Baby Girl” cherry tomato to be the perfect cherry tomato.  Firm, juicy and almost as sweet as candy.  Plant a tub of those in your backyard and you can just sit beside it and eat ‘em all day long.

There are also several vegetables which as far as I’m concerned can rot in hell.  They’re the plants that take work.  They take care and babying and … well, work really.  Red peppers for instance get worms exactly ONE DAY before they’re ready to harvest.  It’s heartbreaking.  Broccoli?  It gets full of wormy, sluggy things that are the exact same colour as the broccoli.  They need to be sprayed and netted and … coddled.  Forget it.  So here … is a small list of my favourite, almost foolproof vegetables for the beginner.  Good luck!

Foolprool Vegetables to Grow from seed!

Radishes

Carrots (need good, soft soil)

Beets

Peas (can be planted directly outside in April … they like the cold)

Butternut Squash

Acorn Squash

Tomatoes

Cucumbers

Jalapeno Peppers

Cherry Tomatoes

Parsley  (yes I realize this isn’t a vegetable)

Basil (ditto)

$5 to the first person who grows a vegetable large enough to use in the Superbowl.


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54 Comments | Filed Under: Outdoor | Tags: ,

54 Responses to How to Grow Vegetables from Seed!

  1. This post comes at a good time. I have started the “cup” method with my herbs except I planted like 20 seeds in each 4 inch container and they all sprouted so now I have to majorly thin them out.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Agree with Adrienne — perfect timing on this post. Just about to plant my square-foot garden and not a clue as to which tomato seeds to buy. ‘Sweet Baby Girl’ FTW!

    Loved this part the most: “But I’m fairly certain if you can recognize most of the words in this post, you’re smart enough to realize you have to water plants.” Gracias for the validation. :-)

  3. Pati says:

    Ugg I too don’t ever grow Broccoli cause of the nasty caterpillars! Nothing worse then cleaning it all and cooking it, only to just about eat one hiding in the stalk…eeww. I don’t grow carrots either as I get maggots in mine..
    Thanks for the post Karen! Wasn’t it nice playing in the dirt after a long winter! Yaaa spring!

  4. Pam'a says:

    I would like to add another easy vegetable– So easy that you ought to just wait and plant it outside: LETTUCE! You don’t have to wait very long, because lettuce loves cool weather. Check with your local nursery to find out when it’s safe. Then, laugh at those expensive bags of lettuce for months to come!

    As for inside seeds, you can also use egg cartons if you don’t want to spring for seed trays. AND, your seedlings will be happiest if they sit someplace warmish. Yay spring!!!

    • Karen says:

      Pam’a – I forgot all about lettuce! Yup! Great and easy. Although lettuce is sometimes prone to aphids and other bugs. As for the egg cartons, I personally don’t use them because the cardboard actually sucks the water out of the dirt, making the plants dry out wayyyyy faster than if you put them in something plastic. Also, the shape of the egg carton isn’t deep enough for the plant to develop nice, long roots. That is all. :) ~ karen

      • Pam'a says:

        LOL… I forgot about paper egg cartons! You’re right– They sure *would* suck water. I was being all save-the-planet and talking styro or plastic ones. :)

  5. cred says:

    Funny, I just planned out my veg garden tonight- now’s the time to start peppers & tomatoes for me, too (I’m also in southern Ontario)
    I also vote for mesclun mix lettuce- direct sown, cool crop makes for great mixed green salads. Can’t wait!
    A little tip for thinning our seedling runts- just snip off the smallest with scissors to avoid accidentally uprooting the seedling you want to save.

  6. Amie says:

    My friend gave me a paper pot press for Christmas. It’s fantastic! You roll the paper around, press the bottom, fill with dirt & your away. I leave mine on the window sill in takeaway containers. When they are ready, you can plant the whole pot. The paper naturally breaks down and the seedling doesn’t freak out about being moved. Its well worth the purchase! http://www.heaveninearth.com.au/p/360072/paper-pot-press-or-pot-maker.html

  7. kim says:

    Thanks Karen, I have been planning my first in upteen years garden. I was thinking about putting broccoli in the garden but now…..yuck!!! If I served slugs to my daughter she would never eat veggies again!!
    Kim

  8. Jen says:

    Any thoughts on damping off? It usually kills most of my beautiful seedlings, just as the true leaves start to unfurl.

    • Karen says:

      Jen – If you’re having trouble, just bring your plants outside gradually. Once you’re about a week away from your setting out date put the plants outside in the sun (the sun shouldn’t be toooo strong at this point) for an hour. And make sure they’re protected rom wind. Bring em back inside. Do the same thing the next day for a couple of hours and so on until the end of the week. This should do the trick. ~ karen

    • Karen says:

      Jen – EEP! LOL, I misread your comment. Using actual “Seed starting soil” like I’ve recommended should help with this. This stuff doesn’t contain any actual “dirt” which can have fungus. Fungus is what causes damping off. Also use sterilized pots and tools. Don’t use dirty old pots from last year. Clean them well and spray them with a mixture of water and hydrogen peroxide. 10 parts water, 1 part hydrogen. Leave it for a few minutes, then rinse it off. Finally, make things the plants are overcrowded which promotes fungus and don’t over water. That should help! ~ karen

  9. Traci says:

    Hmmm…do I have to use this method if I live in Florida? Please so no, because I just planted some seeds in pots and stuck ‘em outside. It’s really warm and sunny, think they’ll be ok?

    • Karen says:

      Traci – LOL, no if you live in Florida you should have a long enough growing season that you don’t need to implement the “windowsill” technique. ~ karen

    • Denise says:

      Hi, I live in south florida, sometimes I put them in the ground, sometimes in little cups out on the back porch to start. I don’t plant lots of seeds but both have worked good…..except for the durn tomatos. :D

  10. Penny Santa-Barbara says:

    Karen I noticed your seeds are from William Dam, my favorite seed shop. Do you live close to there?
    Penny

    • Karen says:

      Penny – Yes! Within driving distance. Love William Dam seeds. That’s where I got my seedling trays actually! ~ karen

  11. magali says:

    I have a jalapeno plant growing right now in an Aerogarden (this ugly machine with a light where the plants grow in water. My boyfriend got it for christmas from his brother.) My mother in law in convinced no jalapenos peppers will ever grow. Tell me she is wrong. Your jalapeno plant made peppers right?

    • Karen says:

      Magali – My Jalapeno plant grew so many peppers I didn’t know what to do with them! It was insane! So yes. Once you get your plant outside into the sun it will prove your mother-in-law wrong. Honestly … you’d better learn how to pickle them or something. A great way to cook them is the BBQ on medium for about 45 minutes. They lose most of their heat but maintain their flavour. ~ karen

  12. Patti says:

    Okay, okay. You’re missing a pretty important vegetable here – beans! They’re super, super, SUPER easy to grow, and they’re soooooo delicious and delightful! I was told to plant them in 2 week periods, so I did – I did a row, and then two weeks later another row, and so on and so on. It meant I had great fresh beans forEVER instead of a huge batch all at once.

    I was JUST talking about gardening with my fiance last night – last year was our first attempt and this year we want to be more organized about it! A couple tips from me:

    Oregano and thyme are easy to grow but they take over an entire garden, so keep those suckers potted.

    Kale is also a super hearty green that stays alive forever and just keeps going and going and going.

    Garlic! Although I think you have to plant it in the fall or something… you just pop the cloves directly into the ground – pretty deep, and you get awesome garlic! It’s pretty cool. You can’t use dried garlic, though, it needs to be fresh. Then, the last head we ‘harvested’ we just broke into individual cloves and planted each of them. The garlic was already coming up yesterday – pooh pooh to this snow!

    • Karen says:

      Patti – You’re right! Garlic is great to grow. I’ve been growing it since I was 15! So at least a few years now. :) But because you start it in the fall, I didn’t include it in my list. Also, oregano and thyme are perennial herbs so they didn’t make my list either. I don’t pot mine because they don’t have as good a chance as living as perennials if you pot them. If they get too big in the garden you can just split them. Cut a big hunk off them and give it away. I’ve never grown Kale … and in fact just ate some last night! I’ll add Kale to my personal list. Thanks! ~ karen

    • Pam'a says:

      Speaking of herbs that take over, beware of mint! I planted chocolate mint one year, and swore at it for the next five as it spread everywhere. What the heck do you do with chocolate mint anyway, besides pinching off the odd leaf and making your friends smell it?? That thrill dies fast.

      Fun factoid: You can tell a plant is from the mint family if has square stems.

      • Karen says:

        Pam’a – You are soooooo right about the mint! Although I remember needing it for some recipe last year and thinking “Phew! Glad I happen to have some even though I pull it all out every year”. :) ~ karen

        • Alisha says:

          I have a 4 foot wide rosemary plant that I cut down to almost nothing twice a year and it just grows so rapidly I don’t know what to do with it all! I’ve given bags of it away on Craigslist! It blooms 10 or 11 months out of the year on Vancouver Island. Silly plant. I find all my veggies get fungus :( I was stoked to grow zucchini from seed last year and they were just getting big enough to pick and they turned all black. I was so sad!!

  13. Pam says:

    I just went out and planted more seeds. With this on my face: http://www.mariobadescu.com/Drying-Lotion and in a low-cut shirt with no bra. Basically looks like pink chalk dots on my face. Ran into the landlord who works next door. Sometimes working at home makes me forget about the boundaries between public and private attire. But it does let me plant a garden over lunch. Thanks for the inspiration Karen!

  14. Denise says:

    I can’t wait to get my luffah seeds now. Perfect timing after that post. Maybe I’ll grow one pollvault size for the five bucks.
    I consider myself to have a green thumb, but have the worst time with tomatos and just gave up on them.. :( However, I would try again if I can find seeds for the “ugly tomato”. I have looked everywhere!
    Thanks again for a great post!

  15. Wow I thought I would never get to the end of the comments.
    Another Florida girl here. Broccoli will survive in Feb March without slugs here. But once the heat and the daily rain comes… up comes the whole plant b.c I hate those slimy worms. UGH. But my kids love the broccoli, so gotta grow it. Beans are awesome. they work really well in pots too.

    Karen, wanted to give you a heads up on a box called the Earth Box. They cost about 30 dollars. (if you buy them) but if you make them yourself you can get em about 5 dollars.
    you need…
    One large storage container (I found them for four dollars at Big Lots)
    4 inch pots that fit inside the container..set upside down. On top of the pots, place wire called hardware cloth or I call it Rat wire, (the mesh wire that has the small holes)
    The area underneathe the wire become the water reservoir. A layer of newspaper covers the hardware cloth and then fill the container with soil.
    A small PVC pipe runs along the side of the container to funnel water to the reservoir.

    In Really hot hot areas where your soil is not good, or you want veggies on your patio, or condo this is a good idea.

    I haven’t tried it yet, as our weather is perfect right now, but later in June and July, I am going to try it out.

    Ok, that is my tip for the gardeners. good luck.
    Amy In Central Flordia

  16. Lisa says:

    Here’s my tip: soil block makers!
    http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-8087-medium-4-soil-blocker-4-blocks.aspx

    I used to save yogurt cups all year long for seed starting, but then I found this block maker thing. Just smoosh the damp soil in there, and eject the blocks. I put them directly in the drip tray. They don’t fall apart either if you pack the soil tight enough. And to plant them, obviously you just plunk the whole thing in the ground.

  17. Trysha says:

    So you’re telling me I can actually do this? Mmmm…sounds like the kids and I have a project for the rest of spring break after all…

    • Karen says:

      Trysha – You DO! It’s so much fun to grow your own vegetables. Make sure you have some quick growing ones for the kids. They like instant results. As do I. Which is why I still plant radishes! ~ karen

  18. Kasey says:

    I really wish I had seen this sooner! I had no idea that seeding soil existed and just got regular soil. Also, when do you start using plant food on them? I bought some and have used a little, but after reading that the seeding soil has no nutrients, I’m confused about it.

  19. Jules says:

    Thanks so much for this Karen- love the easy list…this is on my TO DO list for this year- I have to get better at growing veggies. Question- I know you said for the idiots- you realize you have to water..I think I OVER water???..do you really need to water every day? sorry probably a stupid question but I really want to know!
    Thanks so much!
    Jules

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jules! No, you don’t really need to water every day. It depends on the plant, the soil and the size of the container it’s in. The bigger the container, the more dirt, the longer it will stay wet. For vegetable seedings, you just need to keep them moist, not drowning in water. Just stick your finger about halfway down the soil and see if it’s damp. You know those little metal sticks with the gauge on the top? They’re for measuring soil dampness? They really work. They’re about $8 or so. If you can’t figure out if the soil is too wet or too dry get one of those. Good luck! ~ karen

  20. Christina says:

    I would really love to plant my own veggies, but I live in a condo and don’t have any outdoor soil to call my own. Are there any yummy plants that can be grown entirely in a pot?

    • Karen says:

      Christina! There are allllll kinds of vegetables you can grow in pots! A lot of plants love pots because it keeps their roots nice and warm and compact. I’m not sure if you have a window or a balcony. Balcony is best as long as it gets 8 hrs. of sun, but even a window will sometimes produce vegetables. Plants that grow well in pots Jalapeno peppers, Tomatoes, Basil, Parsley, Lettuce, etc. etc. I’ve never tried beets or carrots in a pot, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work! The only the you have to remember about pots is they dry out faster than a traditional garden so you HAVE to remember to water them. The bigger the pot, the less you’ll have to water. Generally speaking you’ll have to water every day or every other day. Good luck! ~ karen

  21. Evalyn says:

    Seedling trays: I would buy six pack sized instead of those huge ones. Different seeds germinate at different rates so if you start brocolli and sunflowers in that big tray, the sunflowers will be a foot tall by the time the brocolli germinates. You need to be able to take the first sprouters out of the drip tray and leave the later ones in. It’s also easier to keep track of varieties (like three kinds of tomato plants) if you can sprout them in seperate seedling trays.

    I am so getting that block maker. Goodbye to my shed full of assorted plastic pots.

  22. Audrey says:

    Aaaand I suddenly want to throttle my husband. We tried starting seeds last year – we live in Cleveland so share your long winter and short growing season. Our seedlings grew, though not all of the seeds produced, but when I tried to transplant them it was a big effing fail. Most of them died. The plants didn’t survive the transplant because the soil completely fell away from them and their tiny little stems broke in my hands. And I am realizing, after reading this post, that the problem with the MANY MANY MANY seedlings we grew was twofold. 1) My husband never put a plastic cover over the trays and 2) the lights are about 2 feet above the table. *facepalm* Maybe I’ll give it a go again on my own, it’s not too late after all. I just need to find some plastic covers for our trays….

    • Karen says:

      Audrey – That’s a sad story. :( Remember the plastic only has to be over the seedlings until the germinate. Once you see them pop up out of the soil, the plastic comes off. Also, when you transplant or handle the plant in any way, use a pencil or something to support the roots, and always grab the plant by it’s “true” set of leaves. If it happens to break, the plant can always grow another set of leaves while it can’t grow another stem. Does that make sense? Good luck! – Karen

  23. Tiffany says:

    I did this! I went out just yesterday with my free afternoon and bought squash, zucchini, roma tomatoes, serrano peppers, green onions, and bell peppers. I bought the drip tray, and the seed tray, and the cover, and the soil and was SO excited once I planted all of the seeds…
    and then I realized I have absolutely no place for these suckers to go once they get full blown. I have no garden space.
    Hopefully my boyfriend will let me plant them in his backyard. Do you think that is a good idea?

    • Karen says:

      Tiffany – Hah! I do that all the time. I get wayyy too much stuff for the space I have. Be forewarned … the bell peppers have a tendency to get wormy caterpillar things. Every pepper I grew last year got them ONE day before it was time to pick them! So sad. :( ~ karen

  24. Eliesa says:

    So, I planted all my seeds a few weeks ago and they look ready to transplant to the beds. But then, I’m not sure what exactly they should look like… is there a size they should grow to before being transplanted – a certain number of inches? I’m planting cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, peas, etc. Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Eliesa – I’ll need to know where you live (what Zone) in order to determine if you can plant out yet. Transplants can be planted out at any size, but they need to be hardened off. (become gradually accustomed to their new conditions) Email me at karen@theartofdoingstuff.com with your Zone and I’ll guide you from there. ~ karen!

  25. gayle brown says:

    i would like to know how to fertilize young seedlings, just after they come up. and at what intervals. the plants i get from the nursery is so healthy looking…thanks..gb..

  26. Brandi says:

    I start my seeds indoors. I used to buy those recycled paper cup thingies, but I now actually save the empty toilet paper rolls. I cut them in half, leaving me with two short tubes. Snip the edges of one end of your short paper roll, then tuck them under, creating a cup. My 3 year old had a blast with me planting all our seeds. When the weather is right, just plant them, toilet paper roll and all, in your garden. That way, there’s no disrupting the roots.

  27. Mary says:

    THANK YOU, I have that exact same tray filled with seeds, and my Moskvich tomatoes sprouted, but the rest of my veggies haven’t yet- and I couldn’t find ANYthing telling me if I needed to cover them before, or after they sprouted. Heaven forgive my black thumb, lol- you would never know my dad was a honcho for the USDA, rest his soul, lol.

  28. Margaret K. says:

    Bay Area, California – no problem with worms in the peppers here, but radishes get root maggots. So the only stuff my grandkids can grow when they visit in the summer is alfalfa sprouts and such.

  29. Karen Holt says:

    Love, Love, Love your website! Hubby and I are starting a patio garden. We have tomato plants and herbs so far. He mentioned that he wanted us to try starting plantings from seeds. Your website gave me so much information, now I have to admit I am excited to give it a try. Thanking you from beautiful Naples, Florida. Have a bountiful day!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Karen. Starting seeds is a LOT of fun! Addictive even because you can try so many varieties of plants that just aren’t available at nurseries or the garden centres where you normally buy seedlings. I don’t think my day will be all that bountiful. There’s still a foot of snow on the ground here, lol. (NOT normal for this time of year). ~ karen!

  30. Ashley Windley says:

    Just to clarify, cover the tray with the lid and place the tray in a window. And you take the lid off to spritz with water every so often? Then when they sprout, the lid is always off. I’m a newbie here! Also, can I use miracle grow garden soil to start the seedlings (that’s what I have at home right now)??

    I live in WA state and am starting some cucumber, beans, peas, carrots, lettuce, chives, bell peppers, asparagus, strawberries.. i will be transferring them into a large elevated planter once ready.. some i will be putting into their own pot. how will I know when they’re rdy to move? Time, size? A website would be helpful if you have one! It is mid august here, it’ll be warm until late october. I’m assuming some of these will die, but I’m bored, need a hobby, and didn’t want to wait until spring lol! Any advice you have would be wonderful, thanks!! Enjoy your blog!! :)

    • Karen says:

      Yes, that’s right Ashley. As soon as they sprout the lid comes off. You probably won’t need to spritz if the soil you planted it was wet enough. Condensation builds up in the tray, then drips down. You can use the miracle grow soil if you like. I always recommend soilless mix because it’s guaranteed not to have any contaminants, and it’s nice and loose for new little roots to start in. But use what you have. If you live in WA state, this really will be just an experiment because none of your little plants will make it til spring. :( What zone are you? This calendar/calculator of mine might be helpful to you … ~ karen!

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