STARTING SEEDS INDOORS
This lesson introduces three words - germinate, transplant, and harvest - which are very important in the
world of vegetable growing. Germination is when a seed first begins to grow. After a seed is planted in
soil (with the right conditions), the first root, and then the first stem emerge underground. The root
grows downward and the stem upward, in search of sunlight. When the stem emerges from the soil, the
first leaves appear. In order for germination to occur, the seed needs to have the right conditions
- the right amount of moisture and air circulation, and the right temperature. Most vegetable seeds need
constant moisture in order to germinate, but also good drainage - which means that they are not sitting
in water (which will cause them to rot). They need to be in soil that drains well, and need to be watered
regularly so they don't dry out. Garden supply stores carry different soil blends that are designed for
Different types of seeds need a different temperature range in order to germinate. Cool weather crops
are vegetables that can be grown outside in the early spring or late fall because they tolerate, and even
prefer, cooler temperatures (daytime in the 60's and nighttime in the 50's). Some of these plants,
however, still need warmer temperatures to germinate, but then grow well in cooler temperatures. Often
gardeners will use cold frames, or a fabric row cover in order to warm the soil for germinating seeds.
Many of our fruiting vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumber) need warmer temperatures to germinate (75-85 degrees Fahrenheit). In order to achieve this, gardeners in the northeast must start these seeds indoors, with grow lights and possibly another source of heat. Grow lights are lights that use full spectrum light bulbs. These light bulbs produce more natural light wavelengths than regular light bulbs, especially those wavelengths that are useful to plants and animals. In this way, they imitate the sun's light more closely. Many gardeners do not have access to grow lights, so instead they buy seedlings (baby plants) of tomatoes, peppers, etc, and transplant them into their garden in May, when it is warm enough for them to survive outdoors. Seedlings can be bought in May/June at farmer's markets and in gardening stores.
Whether seedlings are bought in a store, or grown indoors under grow lights, when they are 6-8 weeks old they should be transplanted into the garden. This is when they are taken out of their tiny pots and re-planted in the garden. Before doing the gardener must decide exactly where they will go in the garden, and must take into account how big the plant will get, and thus how far apart the plants should be spaced.
A vegetable is harvested when the edible part of the plant is ready for eating. With some plants - such as roots like carrots, beets, radishes - the whole plant must be pulled out to harvest, and of course, it doesn't grow back. With fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers, the fruits can be picked off the plant, and the plant will continue to live and produce more fruits. This can also be done with some leafy vegetables such as kale, or baby greens - some, but not all, of the leaves are picked off for harvesting, and the plant continues to grow more leaves.
Different crops require a different amount of time before they can be harvested. When a gardener wants to start seeds of a particular vegetable s/he needs to think about how long this plant will take to be ready for harvesting, and in which month s/he wants it to be harvested (and thus determine when and where the seeds will be started). Information about germination requirements, transplanting requirements, and days to harvest, is usually found on the seed packets themselves, or in seed catalogues (through which one can order seeds). Fedco Seeds, and Johnny Seeds, are two good sources which can be found online, or in catalogues.