How to Start Vegetable Seed From Scratch

Susan Glaese shares how to start vegetable seed from scratch with tips on planting and growing of specific seeds.

| March/April 1986

  • Starting vegetable seeds
    Beans are planted outdoors when all danger of frost is past, about six inches apart for most varieties.

  • Starting vegetable seeds

Learn how to start vegetable seed and grow your own vegetables while saving money on seeds and plants. The following specific seeds are a good starting point when growing your own vegetable garden. 

Start Vegetable Seed From Scratch


LILY FAMILY — ALLIUMS: Alliums include onions, leeks, chives, and garlic. Onions germinate in 14 to 21 days and can be grown indoors from seed, directly sown, or grown into sets that can be used the following year. Cool temperatures (55 degrees to 65 degrees Fahrenheit) and firm, light-textured soil are ideal for good germination. Do not "help" the emerging seedling by straightening it or removing the seed coat from the first stalk, and keep housebound starts trimmed back to about three inches high. For direct sowing in spring, tilth up the bed, then firm it down a bit and plant in shallow furrows. The seedlings will be thinned later.

The little onion sets that you purchase at the feed and seed or the nursery can also be produced successfully at home. To experiment, prepare a small section of bed, say three- to four-feet long, and broadcast seed in early spring. Chop it in with a leaf rake, tamp the soil to firm it, sprinkle on straw or some other light mulch, and just weed and wait. Don't be concerned about thinning because, come late July, you'll harvest these baby bulbs. Dry them outdoors for a week or two, trim the tops off, and store them, as you would mature onions, in a cool dry place till next spring. Then simply set them out about six inches apart for an early-season jump.

Leeks, which germinate in 14 to 21 days, are similar to onions but should be planted in trenches that you slowly fill in, in order to blanch the stems.

Though many folks plant garlic cloves in spring, I've gotten the best results from bedding them down in the lull of fall. Planted about one inch under the surface, pointed end facing upward, they get a bit of growth on them before winter, then really take off come spring. If you place them in a diamond pattern and mulch with leaves under a layer of straw, you'll keep weeds at bay and you'll know where to feel for bulbs when the tops have died back. Mulch heavily in areas with severe winter temperatures.


PEA OR PULSE FAMILY: These dicots are directly sown and include all of the peas and beans (broad beans, lima beans, bush and snap beans, soybeans, etc.). An initial soaking in warm water for an hour or two can be used to start things happening, but don't soak the seeds longer or you'll risk their splitting open. Once soaked, they can be put into the "mummy wrap," described in the accompanying article, and kept at a temperature above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (preferably 80 to 90 degrees). Rhizobium bacteria, usually found in powdered form at garden supply stores, can be dusted on damp seeds before sowing to increase yields as well as soil nitrogen. I usually sprinkle water from my fingertips onto the seeds, stir them around gently, and then shake them in a paper bag containing this nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

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