Growing your own food is so rewarding!!! Not only because of the great sense of accomplishment that you gain, but the financial benefits are AMAZING!!! Especially if you start your plants from seed! We saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars last year on groceries by growing our own food! By mid-summer, I was only spending about $20/week on groceries to feed my family of 5!!!!! Plus, I had TONS of food left over that I was able to freeze, can or sell to save us even more money!
In addition to that, eating homegrown produce is so much healthier than eating processed and chemically treated foods. So what are you waiting for??? Let’s get growing!
Here are some pointers for getting started:
1. Save money by using containers that you already have lying around.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy growing equipment in order to get your seeds started. All you need is some good quality seed starting mix or potting soil. I prefer to use the organic ones. This one is my favorite!
I did use some seed starting trays to start my tomatoes and onions last year, just to save space since I was growing so many. However, I also used any type of little containers that I had lying around to start the rest of my seeds and to house the started plants once they were big enough to need more space. Just be sure to wash them out with soap and water before using them if they were previously used to hold anything else. I have used yogurt cups, margarine containers, disposable plastic drinking cups… pretty much ANY new or used plastic container will do. I would recommend using one that is not clear, however, just so the roots of your plant aren’t exposed to sunlight.
Most people will tell you that you need to have drainage holes at the bottom of your containers. You can poke holes if you want to, but I never did. If you are careful not to overwater your plants and your containers are an appropriate depth for the size of your plant (I’ll talk about that more in a minute,) then it shouldn’t be a problem.
2. Choose the right size container for each plant.
Sizing your containers appropriately all depends on the size of the plant you are growing. Some plants like oregano have extremely tiny seeds that, in my experience, have taken a long time to germinate. Plants like this need to be started in a shallow container (I would say no more than 2 inches deep) so that when the tiny little roots start to grow, they can reach the water at the bottom of the container.
Other plants, like zucchini and cucumber, are the exact opposite.
The seeds are large, they germinate quickly and they grow even faster! I started them in yogurt containers and transferred them into larger margarine containers and reusable plastic planters before ultimately transferring them into the ground. There should be directions on the seed packets that you buy to let you know the planting depth and any other specific instructions for that type of plant.
3. Maintain appropriate moisture levels.
You want your soil to be consistently moist, but not sopping wet. Immediately after planting your seeds, put some type of plastic lid or plastic wrap loosely over the top to help keep the moisture in until they germinate. When the first of the seeds germinate, you can partially remove the lid or cover to let in some more air. If some of the seeds have not yet germinated, leave the lid partially on for another 4-7 days in hopes that you’ll get some more sprouts. After that, there is no need to keep the seedlings covered. Just make sure the soil doesn’t dry out.
4. Maintain proper soil temperature for germination.
Your seed packet will tell you what the ideal temperature is for germination for that particular plant. Most plants germinate in soil that is somewhere around 70 degrees (F). This probably means that you will want to start your seeds inside the house, unless you have a greenhouse (like this one) that can maintain temperatures close to 70 degrees for most of the day.
If your soil is colder, it will take a lot longer for the seeds to germinate, if they germinate at all.
5. Be sure your plants get enough sunlight and exposure to wind before transplanting them into the ground.
If you have your seedlings (young started plants) in a place where they are not getting enough sunlight, their stems will get very tall and skinny as they try to stretch as far as they can toward the nearest source of light. This makes the stems very weak and the plant itself very frail. I had this problem with my broccoli before I set up my greenhouse last year. Our windows don’t get very much sunlight.
I was able to save the broccoli, though, by burying the stems in taller cups and moving them into the greenhouse after setting it up so that they would get the light that they needed.
Even now, at the end of February, we STILL have broccoli from our garden left in the freezer! And knowing that it was grown organically is the best part!!!
Besides adequate sunlight, seedlings also need exposure to light wind when very young, and moderate wind shortly before transplanting in order for their stems to grow thick and strong. If it is too cold to set them outside for wind exposure, you can run an oscillating fan like this one in the room where you are keeping them to achieve the same effect.
Basically, you want to try to get your started plants used to the outside conditions (sun, wind, etc.) as much as possible before you transplant them into the garden. This will reduce the shock of transplanting and give them the greatest chance of survival.
6. Lastly, give your plants a boost of nutrients with each transplant.
When I transplanted my tomato seedlings into larger cups, I added some crushed eggshells (because tomatoes need a lot of calcium in order to grow well) and some organic plant food specifically designed for veggies and herbs. Less than 48 hours later, my tomato plants had MORE THAN DOUBLED in size!!! I repeated the same process when I transplanted them into the garden and got the same result! I placed the nutrients at the root level by digging the hole, sprinkling in the eggshells and plant food, and placing the plant right on top.
Spring is such an exciting time of year for gardeners! I’m getting ready to start my cool weather crops within the next week or two here in zone 6! If you have never grown food before, I hope that these tips will give you the confidence to give it a try. For you more experienced gardeners, I hope that this knowledge will help you to yield your best harvest yet!!!
For questions or comments, please email me at email@example.com. Happy planting!