How To Start Seeds For Your Vegetable Garden

We want to grow enough of our own vegetables to feed our family. We’re starting seeds for our vegetable garden and want to show you how to do it.

This is a very inexpensive and fun way to get into gardening. Follow our guidelines and you’ll grow a beautiful vegetable garden this year with a bountiful harvest.

You can grow vegetables and herbs in the garden plot, in containers on your deck, or in flowerpots on your kitchen windowsill. In other words, you can grow vegetables and herbs wherever you have a sunny spot.

Why Grow Your Own Vegetables?

urban gardening vegetable harvest crop-
Vegetable Crop

Today’s world is upside down. Every grocery store has empty shelves where toilet paper and cleaning supplies used to be. Canned and dry goods aisles are cleaned out of every item. Even dairy and meat aisles are empty.

We as a family want to become less dependent on grocery stores and big business for our food and are looking at ways to become more self-sufficient. These ways can include baking our own bread, growing our own fruit and vegetables, raising chickens for their eggs and meat, keeping honeybees, and working with local farmers to purchase other food products from them.

We’re looking at what we can supply with our garden. We’re planning our vegetable garden and want to plant enough to be able to preserve a lot of food at the end of the summer.

When learning how to start seeds for your vegetable garden, there are several pieces of information that you have to take into account when planning your own garden. These include your climate, your frost dates, what veggies you want to plant, how many plants, and how much seed you’ll need to get started.

Let’s review all of these together and figure out how to grow a successful vegetable garden.

Your Climate

When planning your vegetable garden, you have to take where you live and your climate into account.

Choose plants that will thrive in your climate and are easy to grow. Consider basil, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes.

At our house, we always have lots of peppers and tomatoes! I might have a tomato problem…

Seeds And Seed Packets

Seed packet for sweet peppers shows planting information and map
Seed Packet

You can purchase seeds for your veggie garden.

The seed packet will have a lot of information on the back about the specific plant and instructions on how to grow it from the seeds. It is an excellent guide for learning how to start seeds for your vegetable garden.

You’ll find information like:

  • When to start the seeds indoors
  • How deep to plant the seeds
  • Space to plant the seedlings
  • Number of days before seedlings emerge
  • What temperature to keep the seeds
  • What to do before transplanting outside
  • Sun requirements (Full Sun, Partial Sun, Shade)
  • Number of days to harvest

The seed packet gives you the information you need so you can plan when to plant your seeds based on their specific germination times and your last spring frost date.

You might ask, “What is a last spring frost date?”

First and Last Frost

Double exposure Calendar with plants growing on nature background
Last Spring Frost Date

First things first: you have to determine your location’s first and last frost dates. The first frost in the fall and the last frost is in the spring.

A frost date is an average date of the first light frost in the fall and the last frost date in the spring. Your local last frost date will dictate when you should start seeds and when you can plant outdoors.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has the first and last frost dates on their site. You plug in your zip code and you’ll get your estimated frost dates based on NOAA information.

You take the last frost date and count backward to find the date you will need to plant your seeds inside.

  • For instance, sweet pepper seeds want to be planted indoors about 8 weeks before planting outdoors.
  • Our local last spring frost date is April 20.
  • My sweet pepper packet tells me to start the seeds indoors 8 weeks before planting outdoors.
  • So, I will count back 8 weeks, and plant my sweet pepper seeds January 25 – February 8.
  • The seedlings will be ready to plant outside after April 20.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac also has a planting calendar that takes all the guesswork out of when to start planting your seeds.

Based on your last frost date, and also on dates for planting by the moon, it will tell you when to plant what.

The planting calendar will use your location to calculate the best time to start seeds indoors and outdoors, as well as when to plant young plants outside.

How Many Seeds Do You Need?

hand holding vegetable seeds for planting vegetable garden
Vegetable Seeds In Hand

Now that you’ve decided to plant a garden, what are you going to plant and how many do you want to plant? Are you thinking of a few tomato plants or enough to support your family?

There is no correct answer to how many plants you need to put in your vegetable garden. It all depends on which plants you want to grow, and what your ultimate goal is for them.

Urban Farmer has seed calculators on their site that you could use to determine how much seed is needed. I used their “How Much To Plant Calculator” which is an excel spreadsheet.

You input your family size and the calculator will automatically tell you how much to plant, what row length is needed, seed spacing, and estimated yield.

Now that you’ve determined the optimal date to start your seeds, what you want to plant, and how many you need, it’s time to get started!

What Do You Need For Planting Your Seeds?

small pots, seed starting potting mix, markers Starting Seeds for vegetable garden
What You’ll Need To Plant Seeds

Here’s a list of the items you’ll need to gather for planting your vegetable seeds.

  • Seeds for the vegetables and herbs you want to plant
  • Seed starting mix or premium potting soil (not topsoil)
  • Individual containers to plant the seeds in
  • Paper cups
  • Labels or markers to identify the seedlings
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Plastic spoons
  • Trays or baking sheet to set the containers on
  • Plastic wrap to make a tent
  • Water
  • Spray bottle with water
  • A warm, sunny window or artificial lighting. A simple clip-on grow light will work well.

To be successful, the plants should grow slowly and get strong. You don’t want plants that are weak and spindly. Give them the best chance at success!

Containers For Planting Seed In

You’re learning how to start seeds for your vegetable garden. You have lots of different containers to choose from to hold your potting soil and seeds in.

They can range from the simplest like foil lasagna pans to the most involved that cost $100’s and include grow lights and a heating pad.

You can use recycled containers that you have around or use standard seed starting trays and containers.

Whatever you choose to use, make sure the container is at least 2-3” deep so the seedling roots have room to grow.

Recycled Container Ideas:

  • Paper cups (the least expensive)
  • Egg cartons
  • Margarine tubs
  • Yogurt cups
  • Produce Clamshells

Purchased Container Ideas:

Consider using one of these containers to start your seeds in. I’ve added the Amazon links to the products so you can easily find them.

This Is The Container We Are Using

This year, we opted to use these seed trays (shown above) which are like tiny greenhouses to start our seeds in.

This mini propagator kit includes 10 sets of seed trays with 12 sections, watertight base trays, humidity domes with adjustable vents, and plant labels.

These seed trays are awesome! They’re inexpensive, durable, and reusable.

Steps To Planting Seeds

Here are the steps you’ll take to plant your seeds in their individual containers.

  • Determine how many plants you want to grow.
  • Pre-moisten your seed starting mix.
  • Fill the containers halfway with the soil.
  • Add seeds to each container.

How Deep Should Seeds Be Planted?

The seed packet will tell you how deep to plant the seeds.

Typically, the recommended depth is 1/4″ – 1/2″ depending on the size of the seed. The larger the seed, the deeper it needs to be planted.

The seeds need to be planted at the correct depth to help them grow. Why? Seeds have shells on the outside of them. As the seedling develops, it needs to shed the shell. Moving up through the dirt will help it do this.

Seed planting depth examples:

  • A bean seed needs to be planted ½” deep.
  • A pepper seed needs to be planted ¼” deep.

Planting The Seeds

Place 3-4 seeds in each cup.

  • Not all of them will germinate.
  • You’ll keep the strongest one for transplanting into your garden later.

Mark the containers so you know what will be growing out of them!

Put more seed starting soil on top of the seeds.

Sprinkle cinnamon on your seedlings as a preventative.

  • Once the seeds begin to sprout, they might develop a film which is actually a fungus.
  • Cinnamon stops the fungus from developing, plus it smells good.

Water each container a bit more with your spray bottle.

Wrap with plastic wrap or place the domes on top

Water the containers from the bottom of the container rather than from the top on the soil.

Add water every few days to the pan under trays

Let the pan dry out before adding more water to prevent too much water standing which might cause root rot.

Spray the top of the soil every day.

Fertilize the seedlings with liquid fertilizers once they get their first set of true leaves or once every week until you transplant them.

Keep Your Seedlings Warm

vegetable seedling growing-seedling-in-soil-under-sun-light-
Seedling In Sunlight

Keep seedlings in an area that is warm but not too cold or too hot. Just like Goldilocks: this temperature is just right!

The ideal temperature is 68-86 F plus humidity.

One woman I read about keeps her seeds in the oven with the light on. The oven creates an atmosphere that traps warmth and humidity.

If you do this, be sure to check your oven before turning it on to bake something!

Another option is to place your seed trays on top of the refrigerator, where it is warm.

We have ours on a table by a west-facing window in one of the warmer bedrooms. The seedlings are just now coming up. When they get a bit bigger, we’ll place the grow lights around them.

Do You Need Heat Mats?

You really don’t need to use a seed-starting mat but it keeps the seeds warm and encourages germination.

We are using one. I have found that the heat mat encourages the seedlings to grow a bit faster, and more seedlings actually grow, increasing our germination success.

This is the seed starting heat mat that we use to start our seeds. You simply flatten the pad and place it under your seed starting trays. It rolls up for storage when you are done with it.

Do You Need Grow Lights?

You don’t need to use grow lights, but seedlings require more direct sunlight than full-grown plants do. If your location doesn’t get much sunlight, you might want to consider getting some.

We use trouble lights with grow bulbs in them and clip them to the growing table. This bulb is an LED that uses low energy and produces a white light that is full-spectrum for the seedlings.

Inexpensive to purchase, very cheap to run, and perfect for the baby seedlings.

Moving the Seedlings To Their First Pot

Peat pots with vegetable seedlings growing in them
Vegetable Seedlings

Once the seeds germinate and get their first 2-3 true leaves, it’s time to move them out of the seed starting trays and into the next container for growing.

We move our seedlings to small peat pots. These are the best and most convenient containers we have found to grow starts in.

When they are ready to plant, you just plant the whole pot into the dirt without removing the seedlings.

Transplanting the Seedlings Outdoors

tomato seedling transplanted in garden
Tomato Seedling

When the last spring frost has passed, it’s safe to plant your seedlings or starts outdoors.

In order to avoid shock, you want to harden the seedlings before transplanting them. This allows the seedlings to get adjusted to the outdoors.

Here’s how you harden the seedlings:

  • 2-3 weeks from the transplant date, start to have the plants outdoors in a sheltered area.
  • Start with 30 minutes a day and work up to a few hours.
  • Bring them inside when their time is up.
  • Watch out for wind and cold weather!

Get your garden started!

vegetable garden layout
Garden Layout From Better Homes and Gardens

We talked about how to start seeds for your vegetable garden.

  • The first thing you do is determine your planting dates.
  • Then you’ll decide what you want to grow.
  • Sow your seeds in seed starting containers.
  • When they are large enough, move the seedlings to a larger pot. We use peat pots.
  • Transplant starts outdoors into the garden you’ve prepared when they are ready.
  • By the end of summer, you’ll have a bountiful harvest and lots of fruits and vegetables that will last you all winter if you wish.

Now that you know how to start vegetable and herb seeds for your garden, what are you waiting for?

What will you plant in your garden this year?

We’ve gathered some of the best ideas for herb gardens and answer questions about raised bed gardening for you.

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