Want vegetables early? Start an (indoor) garden

The process may seem as simple as sprouting beans in 2nd grade science class, but there are several common mistakes. 

Though March may come in like a lion, you can still live those garden dreams now

By Sara Wiercinski

This time of year may feel like a tease for gardeners. There are still weeks before the average last frost date in the Kansas City metropolitan area (April 10, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac), so despite the sun and occasional warmth, it’s not quite time for warm-weather plants or most flowers.

Experienced gardeners know how to get a jump on the growing season by starting plants indoors from seed. Daryl and Patty Ward, longtime gardeners and owners of Sow Right Seeds in Greenwood, MO, are experts in the field. 

Daryl and Patty started Sow Right Seeds out of their suburban Leawood home. In 2017 they moved to a 13-acre farm in Greenwood for more garden space and a barn for seed processing, storage and order fulfillment. They sell more than 350 varieties of non-GMO flower, herb, fruit and vegetable seeds and ship to customers across the United States.

They recently met with the Telegraph to share expert advice on gardening from seed. 

When choosing what to grow, first consider what to eat. “Think of what you enjoy, maybe what you can’t find at the store,” said Daryl. “Growing from seed lets you find new varieties of the foods you love.”

Arugula seedlings emerge under lights. Photo courtesy of Sow Right Seeds.

The process may seem as simple as sprouting beans in 2nd grade science class, but there are several common mistakes. 

Always follow the individual planting directions for each seed type. Start seeds indoors four to six weeks before ideal outdoor planting times. For warm-weather plants, like peppers and tomatoes, consider the average last frost date, then work backwards.

The Wards offer more tips:

  • SOIL: Use a quality soil designed for starting seeds. “Please don’t just grab a handful of dirt from the backyard,” said Daryl. “It may contain fungus and bacteria harmful to the seed. Even potting soil often has too many vitamins. The seed already has everything it needs inside.” Purchase a special seed starting mix from any garden supply store. The mix will feel light and fluffy, ideal to carry water and air to seeds.
  • DEPTH: Learn the recommended depth for each seed variety. Some people assume all seeds are buried underground, but each has differing needs. For example, mint seeds are scattered on top of the soil and gently pressed in for contact. 
  • WATER: Overwatering causes seeds to rot. The best method: water generously after planting, then cover with a clear dome or plastic wrap to lock in the humidity. Do not place covered seeds in direct sunlight. Once the seeds emerge, remove the covering, then water according to the individual plant’s needs.
  • LIGHT: “Most people don’t give their seed plantings enough light,” said Patty. “Windowsills typically do not offer consistent sunlight.” Special grow lights are great, but regular household lamps also work. Place the light source directly above the plantings, about 4-6”. 
  • TRANSITION TIME: Prior to planting in the ground, set seedlings outside to “harden off” which allows time to adjust to the elements. Start with an hour of exposure, adding more time each day for a whole week. “Think of it like starting an exercise program,” said Patty. “Build up endurance over the first week, gradually each day, then plant in the ground.” 

Starting seeds indoors can yield flowers and vegetables much earlier than if directly sowed. Indoor gardening can also provide greens and kitchen herbs for year-round consumption.

Store any unused seeds in a cool, dry place, such as a basement. Depending on the variety, seeds can last for years when stored properly.

According to Patty, customers are showing a renewed interest in medicinal herbs such as white sage, yarrow and hyssop; as well as loofah, an easy-to-grow tropical gourd that can be dried and used as a scrubbing sponge. All-time best sellers are an herbal tea garden starter kit (lemon balm, mint, chamomile, lavender and coneflower) and a homesteader’s collection of 35 classic fruit, vegetables and herb varieties.

For more information, including a complete seed growing guide and soil temperature charts, visit sowrightseeds.com.

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