The easiest way to start your garden early is to germinate the seeds indoors, which has a number of benefits. For starters, you could have those vegetables slightly earlier in the season. And nursing a garden indoors early can mean seeds sprout without the threat of being eaten by wildlife. You can also save money by just buying the seeds, rather than pre-grown plants, for your garden. And you can sprout multiple seeds to see which grow the best and transplant those outside, making for a hardier garden.
For this project you will need:
- Quality seeds
- Seed-starting mix
- Seedling containers with good drainage
- Water and a small watering can
- Pruning shears or sharp scissors
- A trowel
- Optional grow light
Another wonderful aspect of this project is that it’s low-budget. Seed-starting mix commonly costs around $5 for a larger 12-quart bag. Fertilizer usually costs around $7. Seedling containers with great drainage cost under $10 for packs of them. And individual packs of seeds cost only a few dollars. So you could start your garden early for under $30.
This project typically takes several weeks, but can vary based on what type of seeds you are growing.
Here are the steps for starting your garden early:
- The first step is to figure out the correct timing. This will depend on your area’s average last frost date, which you can check at places like The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Often, seed packets will also give you a timeline on when to start germinating indoors, such as six or two weeks before the last frost date.
- Start your garden early by filling your seedling containers with seed-starting mix. As a note, you should use this seed-starting mix because it drains better and has specific nutrients for young seedlings. You also won’t risk the disease spores that could come from the soil you got from outside.
- Follow instructions on the seed packet for planting. Different plants can have different needs, most notably how deep you should plant the seeds. Though, often, you’ll see the advice to plant the seed twice as deep as the seed’s width.
- Plant several seeds per container. A great benefit to starting your garden early in this manner is that you’ll eventually harvest the strongest seedling.
- Water the mixture so that it is moist to the touch, but not soaked. It should feel like a damp sponge. (Check a few times per day to make sure the mixture is not drying out.)
- Place the seedling pots in a warm place. Some types may require light to germinate, so read the packet for instructions.
- Once the seedlings sprout, put them in a window for sunlight or under a grow light if they are not there already.
- When you see leaves, start adding the fertilizer as per the instructions on the package.
- To increase the hardiness of your garden early, snip the smallest sprouts at the base. You should be left with one sprout per container that’s the healthiest of the bunch. That sprout should have three or four true leaves before you transplant it.
- Before transplanting, you will have to spend time “hardening off” the plants. Without this process, the shock of sudden outdoor conditions can hurt their growth. That just means putting the plants outside during the day for an hour or so. Then you increase the time incrementally by an hour or two each day for about a week, while also gradually increasing the amount of direct sunlight the plants get.
- Once you’ve reached at least the last average frost date for your area, you can begin transplanting the seedlings outdoors. Simply dig small holes the size of your seedling containers in your garden with the trowel. Ease the mixture out of each container in one clump by turning it upside down; you can tap the container if needed.
- Place the mixture and root system in the hole. Fill over the hole and around the seedling with a thin layer of soil. Add water immediately so the soil is wet, rather than damp, to the touch.
And remember, animals and insects love to munch on tender garden seedlings close to the ground. So make sure to protect your garden early with fencing or repellant.