Growing a Garden from Seed

Reader Contribution by Nicole Wilkey
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I would like to preface this article by saying: however you want to start a garden is the best way to start a garden! I hope to inspire you, or any one person, to start a garden no matter how grand or how small it may be. The more people we can get growing, the better, in my opinion.

So now that you have gardening on your mind, consider starting your garden from seed! Sure you can go to your local plant nursery and buy fruit or vegetable starts, seedlings or nearly mature plants that you just ‘plug and play’. However, doing so is much more expensive and it REALLY limits the varieties available to your garden.

Flipping through seed catalogues is one of winters great pleasures, daydreaming of warmer days to come and is the perfect time to place your seed order. Starting a garden from seed does take some planning- you’ll want to start your seeds much earlier to get them ready to plant out after your average last frost date for your spring/summer garden. You’ll also want to become familiar with your plant hardiness zone as some plants do better/worse in certain areas, or you just have to be creative on when you start your seeds so that you can maximize your growing season. Here in my part of Northern California, I’m in zone 9a, which means that our average annual minimum temperature is between 20-25 degrees (F). Which means I’ll start my first seeds indoors (like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) in late January. So you can see why right now is a great time to get to planning! You can find your plant hardiness, or also known as your growing zone: here.

&#x2028So what about planting dates? When to start seeds indoors? When to transfer seedlings outdoors? When to direct sow seeds outdoors? So many questions- don’t get overwhelmed! It’s all a learning process and a great lesson in patience. But if you can trust the process you’ll reap the rewards, I promise! Most counties will have your local university extensions planting guides online. This is written by people who live in your region and know what plants thrive, you can google your county’s planting online guide. Or you can also search your zip code with The Old Farmers Almanac here for specific dates for starting seeds indoors, transferring seedlings outdoors, and when to direct sow seeds outdoors. They even have preferred planting dates if you follow the moon cycles, pretty interesting!

Back to the really fun stuff- seeds! How about black tomatoes? Check out these Black Beauty Tomatoes from my garden last summer- they are one of my favorites. Or maybe these Brad’s Atomic Grape Tomatoes– these blew my mind last season. SO MUCH FLAVOR! I can promise you that you won’t be finding these beauties at your local supermarket. You have to grow them from seed! Or these fun loofahs that go from garden to shower for the whole family. Even flowers- you can buy so many different flower seeds {or tubers, bulbs etc.} from seed catalogues that you rarely find at a nursery. How about purple potatoes or pink lettuce? The possibilities are endless people!

So now that you want to grow a garden from seed, how do you keep all of those seed packets organized? There are many methods of storage such as an old shoe box, a ziplock bag, in a drawer- but are those really organized and functional? Not really. My favorite way to store and organize my seeds is this photo organizer you can find online. I have different types labeled so I know right where to go when I want a specific seed. It keeps them dry, safe and I currently have over 100+ different packets in here with room for more.

&#x2028I don’t have a greenhouse (but someday I hope!) so my garage serves as my modified ‘greenhouse’. I can roll the door up during the day so the plants get real sun (which can help prevent ‘legginess’ in your sprouts) and they get real wind and weather, which I have found to produce much sturdier plants overall and much easier to harden off. At night when it is much colder, I close the door and tuck them in for the night. Heat mats can also be key to good germination rates and time.  A seed just isn’t usually going to sprout in 40 degree (F) weather. I set my seed mat thermostat to 80 degrees (F) and see germination within days (depending on what seeds we are talking about). You can also use a heat lamp, but this tends to dry the soil faster. You’ll need some form of light- either actual sunlight or grow lights for germination, and when it’s time to ‘harden off’ the seedlings you’ll want to go slowly, over the course of a week or so if they have truly been indoors. If you do all this, plus keep the soil moist at all times, you are well on your way to having a garden from seed!

&#x2028To recap and to list some of the benefits of growing a garden from seed:

1. A seed packet may have anywhere from 10-300 seeds each, the cost savings doing it this way is significant and if you save your seeds from year to year, you may only have to buy one packet and be set for life!

2. The varieties available in seed form is exponential compared to what will be available to you at any plant nursery.

3. It’s a fun winter project. Especially if you suffer from winter blues or similar- it may be just what the doctor ordered to get your mind off the dull and dreary days.

4. The wonder and excitement of seeing a brand new sprout through to a mature plant is nothing short of amazing. The fact that these little seeds hold so much information in the form of DNA and morph into these lush plants that produce so much food will blow your mind. You will have a new appreciation for produce as a whole.

5. Growing from seed is one more layer of knowing where your food comes from. You know the soil, the nutrition and the care that went into the food you will harvest.

What a lesson for kids and adults alike. In a world full of instant gratification, planting a seed forces you to slow down, be patient and nurture. That change in perspective is huge.

Happy sowing and growing!

&#x2028Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook.

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