At this unique early-Spring/late-Winter intersection, it often feels like Spring will never… well, spring. Instead of attempting to fight off your Seasonal Affective Disorder with lights and well wishes, we suggest taking matters into your own hands by bringing Spring to you. Our favorite way to do this is by starting a brand new veggie garden from seeds indoors, then eventually bringing them outside when the time and temperature have finally gotten the memo.
If you’re on the fence about starting a new gardening endeavor, let us recount a few of the many benefits. Not only will you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor year after year, gardening is also a meditative hobby that allows you to commune with nature from the comfort of your own backyard, window ledge, or fire escape. And of course, once your veggies are fully matured, your new hobby will reduce your grocery bill and your carbon footprint. Have we convinced you yet?
Although you can start a vegetable garden from either seeds or transplants, we personally prefer the seed method for the below reasons:
Even if your local nursery is ripe with different vegetables to choose from in a more matured state, you’ll likely find a wider array of options when shopping from the seed section. For more unique veggies like yellow pear tomatoes or lemon cucumbers, it’s much easier to find these seed packets from a website, instead of driving hours to hunt down that golden goose nursery with your prized transplant.
Just like any good hobby, a monetary investment is the first step of getting started. It’s much more cost effective, however, to buy seeds than buying full transplants, and you can potentially get a larger yield of that vegetable. Keep in mind that no matter which stage your veggie garden begins with, you’ll still need to invest in tools, soil, and potentially containers to house these plants.
Just like a little human baby, when you start from seeds, you get to watch the entire lifecycle of your veggie children in front of your very eyes. Plus, when this article is published (early Spring) is the perfect time to start a veggie garden from seeds indoors, even if the weather is still less than favorable.
As with all of the rituals we cherish, this experience is entirely “Choose Your Own Adventure”. We’ve put together this guide to help you get started, but there are many garden paths ahead to follow along, frolic, or circle back from. Without further adieu, let’s get dirty.
PICK A SEED, ANY SEED
First things first, you’ll need to pick the right seeds. It's important to select seeds that are well-suited for your climate and soil, as this will increase the likelihood of success. Even if you’ve had your heart set on a specific variety of produce, you’ll need to be realistic about whether or not that plant can flourish where you live. Trust us, you don’t want to get excited about growing a vegetable that’s doomed to fail from the start. Figuring out which seeds will thrive in your climate and soil is fairly easy. First, find your USDA hardiness zone (a measure of the minimum temperature a plant can survive in your area) by visiting the USDA website and entering your zip code. Then, look for seeds that are labeled for your USDA hardiness zone. Et voilà, you’ll have a match made in gardening heaven.
Now that you’ve figured out what can grow where you live, you’ll need to decide which type of seeds you’ll want to purchase. There are two main types of seeds — open-pollinated (seeds that are produced naturally by plants that have been pollinated by insects or wind) and hybrid (created by crossbreeding different plant varieties to produce specific traits like disease resistance, higher yields, or specific colors). At the Hawkins home garden, we have a few seed rules we like to follow. First, never use genetically modified seeds. After all, we’re not commercial farmers — and neither are you — and statistically speaking, genetically modified seeds do not provide significantly increased yields, so there’s little to no benefit of using them. Our second and most prized rule is that heirloom seeds are your best friends.
Heirloom seeds are of the open-pollinated variety and they’re aptly named: these guys have been passed down through generations, with more unique characteristics and flavors than your run of the mill open-pollinated or hybrid options. If you’re going to start your own veggie garden, and you have to see these cute little veggies sprouting over weeks to come, don’t you want to see something exciting? Something you can’t find in just any old garden? This is why we love heirloom seeds. They give you the opportunity to truly personalize your garden, making it the polar opposite of garden variety. We couldn’t recommend Rare Seeds more highly for this task. They have an incredible variety to shop through and a handy growing guide for each vegetable to ensure success.
LET'S MAKE A PLAN
Before you *officially* get to planting, you’ll need to plan your garden by picking the optimal location, the layout of your garden, and ensuring your vegetables are properly spaced.
First, you'll need to decide where your veggie garden will live — initially indoors and eventually outdoors. Ideally, each location will receive at least six hours of sunlight per day. You also want to plan the layout of your garden by considering the space you have available, the types of vegetables you want to grow, and how much space each plant will need. Because you’ll be starting your garden from seeds, this is a great opportunity for some day dreaming. Get out of your winter blues and imagine a world in the (near) future where the sun is shining, your seedlings are in said direct sunlight, and you’re out there nurturing your veggies as they mature.
Just like with our table linens, bedding, and home decor, we love a good mix and match in the garden. We always get seeds for the tried and true veggies and herbs like tomatoes, basil, and lettuce, but we wouldn’t be the Hawkins New York team if we didn’t mix in something unique and unexpected too. Shiso leaves and lemon cucumbers are a couple favorites, but feel free to select anything that catches your eye (and matches your climate constraints).
Good news: It’s finally time to plant!
Lots of veggies and herbs need to be started indoors by seed, and then planted outside after the local frost date. Once you’re ready to plant your seeds indoors, just follow the instructions on the seed packet for the correct depth and spacing. As a general rule of thumb, most seeds should be planted at a depth of two to three times their diameter.
Seeds are quite fragile by nature, so make sure that you’re tending to them properly. The best way to do this — especially with multiple types of veggies on the horizon — is by keeping some sort of log or record wherever you prefer storing your notes. Your phone will do just fine or you can pick up a notebook and keep a separate seed log if that feels more manageable. When you’re starting your seeds, here are some things to keep in mind:
- After planting in your chosen indoor vessel, gently tamp your seeds down to ensure direct contact with the soil
- Keep your seeds warm to encourage germination
- Provide airflow and drainage to your vessels to prevent disease,
- Turn your seeds regularly to ensure they receive the proper amount of sunlight, based on your window direction
- Feed them well with a natural fertilizer after true leaves emerge
Once it’s time to officially bring your seedlings outdoors, you might want to start acclimating them to direct sunlight and fluctuating temperatures — a process known as “Hardening off.” Make sure that you’re beginning this process after the frost date: to find your local frost date, simply use this website and search your zip code. It’s best to do the hardening off process over a three-day period, placing your seeds in direct sunlight during the morning of the first day, then increasing this time outdoors by a few hours each day. Once they’re strong enough to be transplanted, you can bring your indoor babies outside to flourish.
TENDER LOVING CARE
So, you have a budding, beautiful home vegetable garden right outside your window. How do you keep it that way?
Of course, you’ll want to keep unwanted pests from your veggies by using organic pest control methods such as companion planting or with the help of natural insecticides. Regular weeding and thinning (removing extra seedlings to give the remaining plants more space to grow) will also help your plants grow strong and healthy. To encourage even more plant health, prune your plants as needed. Pruning makes your plants stronger and tidies up your garden aesthetically-speaking, but don’t trim with abandon! The best time to prune your plants is when they’re in their active growing season during spring and summer.
OFF TO HARVEST
To get the best flavor and nutritional benefits out of your brand new veggie garden, you need to harvest them at different times. Unfortunately there’s no universal rule for the perfect time to pick all fruits and vegetables, but your best tool is right in front of your nose — your mouth. Tasting is really the only certain way of knowing when your plants are ready to be harvested, although it helps to remember that most vegetables are harvested just before full maturity for the best texture and maximum flavor. Different vegetables have different indicators of readiness, such as color, size, or texture, so do a little bit of research before you start blindly tasting your latest grow.
Once you’ve harvested your vegetables, make sure you store them properly to maintain freshness. Again, this varies depending on the vegetable itself, with some vegetables stored best in a cool, dark place, and others needing to be refrigerated or canned.
Starting your veggie garden indoors is a true treat for anyone with a green thumb (or anyone who wants to try their hand at one) and serves as a visual reminder that Spring is truly, actually, sincerely on its way. So even if you’re still waiting for the warmth of the sun to revive your spirits, watching your veggies start sprouting little leaves will give you that necessary reminder that the light always returns after even the darkest winter.
By choosing the right seeds, planning your garden, and caring for your plants, you can enjoy a plentiful harvest of vegetables (grown by you!) year after year. And once you’ve harvested your homegrown produce, it’s the perfect time to have a farm to table dinner party, share the love with friends and neighbors, or just display your vegetables proudly in a nice little basket. We wish your and your seeds a happy, healthy lifecycle.