Starting your own plants from seeds is one of the most rewarding of all gardening projects. Instead of being limited to the typical varieties of plants offered as transplants, you can choose from a much wider variety of plants with an almost unlimited array of flavors, colors and attributes. Once you sample some of the gourmet varieties that are seldom seen in stores, your tastes will forever change.
In the dead of winter, the bright light of a window or grow lights will cheer you up. Baby plants springing up from your grow trays will make you eager to get into the garden. The bulbs used for plant grow lights emit as much as 85% of full spectrum of the sun, so they will chase away the dark winter blues.
If you have not gardened before, you will be part of a rapidly growing trend. In 2009, there were 43 million gardens planted, and 19% of those were started by first time gardeners. The reasons are many, including:
- the desire to grow more nutritious and organic food that tastes better and is fresher,
- saving on the cost of food,
- being wary of the scares over food contamination during the last few years, and
- concerns about the quality of food, including
- avoiding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) products,
- avoiding disease-causing food additives,
- avoiding produce that is irradiated and not labeled as such, and
- the poor nutritional quality of supermarket produce, especially chemically grown and chemically ripened produce.
Many people grow just the most expensive items they would normally purchase at the grocery store, such as fresh salads and herbs, as well as other produce that tastes much better when homegrown, like tomatoes and peppers. Growing your own food or buying locally from producers you know are the best ways to take control of your food costs, the ingredients in your food, and the methods used to grow your food, as well s to avoid genetically modified ingredients, which the Institute for Responsible Technology reports is in over 70% of grocery store food.
The Costs and Savings of Growing Your Own Vegetables
Starting seeds inside may take an initial investment in equipment and supplies, but if the equipment is properly cared for, it should last for years. Some supplies are used up, but even considering this, you will save money in the long run for food that is fresher and healthier. Estimates in 2008 showed that $100 worth of seeds could grow produce worth $2500 if purchased at the grocery store. Food prices are much more inflated now, so the value of the produce is likely much higher now. The price of seeds has not significantly increased in the same time period. Most seed packets contain enough seeds for a family for a year and most seed varieties will remain viable for several years if stored in a cool, dark, dry place.
If you cannot afford an initial investment for equipment, do not let that stop you. For the cheapest way to start vegetables from seed, you can just buy of seeds and soilless seed starting media and using anything that will hold soil for containers. Many people start entire vegetable gardens in containers such as disposable drink containers, milk jugs, yogurt containers and margarine tubs. Poke holes in the bottom for drainage and line them up on a sunny south- or southeast-facing window sill.
What You Will Need to Start Vegetables from Seed
To start vegetables from seed inside, you will need:
- seed starting media,
- well-draining containers or a Ladbrooke soil blocker,
- a well-lit location,
- water soluble plant food,
- and depending on what you want to start, a way to keep the growing media warm. (Warm places may be near a heat vent or on top of the hot water heater until seeds germinate. After germination, seedling trays can be moved to another location.) If you do not have a warm place to start seedlings, a seed starting mat can help to dramatically improve your results,
- ground cinnamon and/or chamomile tea to prevent damping off (sprinkle the cinnamon on top of the soil just before watering in the seeds or water with chamomile tea after planting seeds),
- plant labels,
- plastic wrap or reused plastic food bags to place over your seed containers to maintain moisture until they germinate. Remove plastic once the seedlings have emerged.
Of all the places to save money on starting seeds, there is one that you should not skimp: seed starting soil. You will have much better results if you buy a professional seed starting mix or mix your own quality potting soil. For seed starting, professionally formulated soilless mixes work best since they are light weight and are normally sterile. Keep your soil bags closed tightly between uses to maintain sterility.
How to Label Your Seed Trays
To keep track of what you are growing, label your containers with the name of the seeds you have planted and the date you planted them. Countless gardeners skip this step every year, and then have mystery vegetable varieties and incomplete records. Some varieties look so much like one another that it is nearly impossible to tell them apart. Knowing what you planted will help you to know what to plant more of next year and what to avoid planting again.
The cheapest plant markers can be made from pine needles or toothpicks and clear tape. Wrap the tape around one end of the pine needle or toothpick to make a tiny flag. Write the name of the variety and the date on the tape, and put another layer of tape over the writing to protect it from the elements. These have the advantage of not blocking light from your seedlings and do not disturb the soil as much as plastic markers when they are inserted or removed. When you move your seedling to larger containers or transplant them into the garden, make larger, more durable plant labels.
To save time and automate your seed starting process, see