Today, we’re going to talk about how to start a vegetable garden from scratch and save money. You really can start just about everything you want to grow inside and save a bunch of money at the same time!
We started creating our vegetable garden last year on the new property. We enjoyed the process: planning the garden, building the raised beds, watching the plants grow, and especially eating the harvest.
But, we used veggie starts that we bought from the local greenhouse. It was so expensive to buy all of them!
Compare Purchased Plant Starts To Seeds
Just think, someone else started those seedlings for you and they have to charge you for their time and labor. That’s why they are so costly compared with a packet of seeds.
Seeds are very inexpensive to purchase. You get a ton of seeds for much less than the few seedlings you can get from the garden store.
We thought we could learn how to grow a vegetable garden ourselves. Looking at the winter seed catalogs, we decided to try to start our own seeds. So we ordered lots of them, of course!
Start Your Own Seedlings!
You can start your own from seed, save money, and feel like proud parents when you plant them in the garden.
There’s lots of learning to do when you’re learning about how to start a vegetable garden from scratch!
We learned that each kind of plant has its own method for starting the seeds. It depends on how fast they grow.
Many vegetables are fast-growing and the seeds can be planted directly into the garden.
- Examples include beans, peas, sugar snap peas, radishes, lettuce, and arugula.
- There are many others too!
But some vegetables are slower to grow and might not have enough time to germinate and grow if the seeds are planted directly in the garden. They’ll need to be started indoors way before you plant them outside.
- For example, tomatoes are slow-growing vegetables and take a long time from seed to maturity.
- Some tomatoes take over 100 days to produce fruit.
- You will need to start them indoors in April in order to have tomatoes maybe by July or August!
Read The Seed Packet!
You can find out when the seeds should be started on the seed packet.
The first thing I learned was where to get information about the seeds. The back of the packet!
Read the back of the seed packet to get all of the planting information that you will need. It will even tell you if the seed is a candidate for starting indoors or should be planted directly out in the garden.
The packet will identify the following crucial elements for you:
- What the seed is
- How to start the seeds
- When to start the seeds
- What to use for a growing mixture
- How deep to plant the seeds
- What the seeds need for water and light
- When to transplant the seeds into your garden
- Transplanting instructions
- How much sunlight and water the seedlings will need
- How many days it will take to mature for harvest
Learn How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch: What You’ll Need To Start The Seeds
These are the items you will need to have ready when you start your seeds.
You can use the pots or containers we recommend (we have added the Amazon link for your convenience). Or you can actually use anything you have lying around like clean yogurt containers or egg cartons if you want to instead.
- Seed starting mix (we use Burpee’s product)
- Labels (we use T-type tags)
- Plastic wrap or tray dome covers
We used these mini greenhouse grow trays with dome and base to start the seeds in, and we had one egg carton for the extra seeds.
The Steps For Planting Seeds
- Start with good seed starting potting mix. It actually does not contain any soil. The mix is light and porous with small particles of vermiculite and fin-grained sand.
- Moisten it slightly.
- Fill the pots, trays, or containers 2/3 full with the moist seed starting potting mix.
- Add the seeds to the planters and cover them with the potting soil. Be sure to follow the planting instructions on the back of the seed packet.
- Place at least three seeds per container, since not all of the seeds will germinate. You can thin the seedlings out later.
- Once the seeds are placed in the potting soil, put some potting soil on top of them.
- Check the seed packet to see how much soil should be placed on top of the seeds.
- Beans like more soil on top than lettuce seeds, which really want to be on top of the soil.
- Gently push on the soil to firm the seeds.
- Now it’s time to moisten the top of the soil. I used a spray bottle to moisten each cell.
- Cover the trays or containers with plastic.
- Since we used the little greenhouses, we placed the plastic domes on top and adjusted the vents.
- We covered the egg carton seeds with plastic.
- Place the containers in a warm location that is free of drafts. The ideal temperature is between 65° – 70°F.
- Some people place their seedlings on top of the refrigerator or in an unheated oven with the light on.
- Some people use heating mats under the trays. Be sure to use heating mats made for seedlings!
- We placed our seedlings in a spare room with grow lights for warmth.
- Check them daily to make sure they are kept moist and warm. Don’t allow them to dry out.
Seedlings Are Starting To Grow
In a few days you will be able to see the baby seedlings start to grow up out of the soil.
- Remove the plastic covering as soon as you see the seedlings begin to emerge. Place the trays in an area with indirect light and good circulation.
- Keep the potting mix moist but not wet. If it’s too wet, fungus can grow. I sprinkled ground cinnamon on top of the soil to help prevent the fungus. Try to water the trays from the bottom.
- When the seedlings are starting to straighten up and have two leaves, it’s time to give them some light. They will need between 12 – 18 hours of light every day. We placed ours in a sunny window and had three grow lights on most of the time.
Now is also the time to give your seedlings some food.
- Lightly fertilize (and I mean lightly!) with a water-soluble fertilizer that is diluted to half strength.
- We used a balanced fertilizer or a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and potassium. This will encourage good root strength and healthy seedling growth.
You can keep the seedlings in these starter containers until they’re ready to be transplanted.
- Or you can transfer them to a larger pot to continue growing. This is called “potting up.”
- We “potted up” to these 4” peat pots. The best thing is that you can place the seedling with its peat pot into the soil when you transplant them!
Once they have grown to the recommended size (read the seed packet), it’s almost time to transplant the seedlings into the garden.
Hardening Off Your Seedlings
You’re continuing on the road to learn how to start a vegetable garden from scratch.
You have pampered your seedlings inside all this time. They will need an adjustment period to acclimate to outdoor conditions.
This period of adjustment is called “hardening off” where they are gradually exposed to outside conditions, sun, rain, and wind. Hardening off helps prevent transplant shock where the young seedling might become stunted and could actually die from the sudden changes in temperature and sunlight.
We recommend you start to harden off your seedlings 7 to 10 days before you plan on transplanting them outside.
To start the process, place the young plants in a spot that is sheltered and shady. Too much sun will cause scorching on the leaves and wind can cause damage to the leaves. I’ve had the wind blow the little plants over and totally dry out their soil!
That first day, you can leave them outdoors for 3 or 4 hours before bringing them back inside.
Gradually increase the outside time an hour or so more every day. Bring them back indoors or in the garage each night.
You can place them in the morning sun after a couple of days but put them back in the shade in the afternoon. The sun can scorch the leaves.
If it’s warm outside and the temperatures range around 50°F throughout the day and night, the seedlings can remain outdoors after 7 days. Be sure to watch that the soil doesn’t dry out, and protect them from the wind.
How To Grow A Vegetable Garden: Your Seedlings Are Ready To Transplant
You’re almost done with learning how to start a vegetable garden from scratch! After 7 to 10 days of hardening, your seedlings are ready to transplant into the garden.
This is the day you’ve been working toward! Now your baby seedlings can grow up into large plants that will give you so much produce at harvest time. Very exciting, huh?
How To Start A Vegetable Garden From Scratch
Okay! You’ve learned how to start a vegetable garden from scratch. How to start your veggies from seed, how to harden them off, and how to transplant them into the garden. This is easy stuff, right?
It’s decision time. What seeds are you going to start first? Tomatoes? Peppers? Tomatillos?
Let me know in the comments.