Growing your own vegetables from seed has many rewards. You will be able to grow varieties not available locally, and get a jump on the gardening season. Plus during the doldrums of winter, you will have a bright light, almost as bright as the sun through the window, cheering up your surroundings, and new life springing out of the soil.
Get your children or grandchildren involved. Growing plants not only gets children interested in nature, but it teaches them to care for something that depends entirely upon them. Even if a few plants do not make it, it is an inexpensive project that they will remember for a lifetime.
The Benefits of Growing Your Own Food
Getting seedlings off to a good start depends on a few things. All life begins with good soil, be it plants, animals, or humans. We all depend on Mother Earth for the nutrition in the soil that is available for the plants to absorb through their roots and put into our food. The saying goes, “feed your soil to feed your plants.” The quality of food and the nutrition it offers has rapidly declined since “modern” farming practices began to dominate. Modern agriculture adds only the three most essential nutrients, N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium or potash). This makes plants look healthy, but the nutrition analysis paints a different picture.
The spinach at the store has only a fraction of the vitamins and minerals as the spinach of 50 years ago. Even organic produce from the store is often lacking nutrition, because in order to meet the price points demanded by big chain stores, growers must cut corners. Much organic food is grown hydroponically, but no matter how much nutrition is added to the water used, it still lacks the full spectrum of nutrients found in good quality organic soil.
By growing your own food, you can reap the benefits in many ways. First, you can plant varieties from yesteryear that have not been artificially controlled into hybrids, or worse, genetically modified. These heirloom vegetables have the flavor that older generations remember from the garden, and you can save the seeds from year to year. Second, you can avoid using chemicals by growing organically, which improves your food quality and the environment by mimicking natural process. Third, gardening has many health benefits. Being in the sunlight for a sensible amount of time with your skin exposed helps your body to absorb vitamin D, which is a proven immune builder. Gardening is good exercise, which promotes healthier hormones (besides vitamin D, which is actually more of a hormone than a vitamin). Fourth, gardening is a family or community activity, and in good years, you will have plenty to share. And last, growing your own food is much less expensive than buying it at the store, and your produce is much fresher, more nutritious, and tastier.
How to Start Seedlings Indoors – Potting Mix
Starting out with a good seed starting mix is the first step. Using natural components such as peat, coco-fiber, perlite, and vermiculite will go into your garden when you transplant, improving the soil texture. Good mixes are available at your local nursery, or you can purchase the components and mix your own. A ratio of 2 parts peat, 1 part perlite, and 1 part vermiculite by volume will get your seedlings off to a good start.
Adding a good quality organic source of minerals, such as bone meal, Azomite™, or greensand, to the soil will make the nutrients available to your plants when they begin to need it, which is during the formation of their second and third sets of leaves. Seeds naturally contain all the nutrition a plant will need until it starts setting true leaves, then it is time to start feeding baby plants every two weeks with a diluted organic fertilizer solution.
Seed kits with a clear plastic dome, or seed flats covered with clear cling wrap will benefit from the consistent moisture of their protected environment. Once the seedlings are germinated, remove these to prevent damping off, which is caused by excess moisture.
Seedlings will also benefit from a light breeze. A breeze keeps the foliage dry and prevents diseases. It also makes the plants more accustomed to wind, so if they are moved outside they will not endure as much of a transplant shock. Gently but firmly running your hand across the tops of your baby plants helps them to develop a stronger stem.
Starting Seedlings Indoors – Grow Lights
Your seedlings will also need plenty of light. If you do not have a south or southeast facing window, you can provide artificial light to get them started. Keep the light box a few inches away from the top leaves of the plant, and as the baby plants grow, raise the lights to stay a few inches off of the leaf surface. Plants that extend themselves, looking for the sun, need more light.
Your seedlings may need transplanted to larger containers one or several times before being moved outside or to their eventual size of pot. During transplanting, handle plants by their leaves by gently folding the leaves together as you pick them up. Handling by the stems or roots can tear them, and is more likely to damage or kill your baby plants.
If your seedlings’ eventual home is outside, it is best to “harden them off” before transplanting to gradually get them used to the harsher outdoor conditions. It is shocking to a baby plant to one day have 85% sunlight, 72°F temperatures and only a light, moist breeze, and the next day to have glaring sun, 50°F temperatures, and gusts of dry wind. Instead, take them outside for a few hours longer each day and bring them back in at night or during cold snaps. This way, they will take off better when they are transplanted and will be subjected to less stress in their new home.
Grow Lights for Starting Seedlings Indoors
The Ultimate Grow Light is a compact unit to start half trays that are 11 inches square, or similar sized planters. The design of this unit saves space while delivering a level of light that is about the same as normal daylight. The base and growing height both adjust, keeping the 23 watt CFL bulb the correct level from your plants as they grow. The unit is 22 inches tall by 11.9 inches wide by 12 inches deep and costs about $45.
Table Top Grow Light gets seedlings off to an early, healthy start with its wide spectrum light. The light box is fully adjustable, so you can move it up as your seedlings get taller. The grow light is 24 x 30 x 12 (inches, height x width x depth) and costs about $140. It comes with two 20 watt wide spectrum bulbs which will accommodate any standard seed starting flat. You can get 36 to 72 seedlings started, so the unit will pay for itself the first or second time you use it.
Grow Lights for Growing Vegetables Indoors
Some grow lights are powerful enough to mimic the sun, which makes them suitable for growing food indoors. Plants that stay relatively small are the best choices, since all of the leaves of the plant need to be able to fit under the light. Herbs, salad fixings, and greens, as well as houseplants will thrive under any quality grow light.
The Glow N Grow Light Garden is a two shelved portable light garden. This lightweight unit holds 8
standard growing trays or 48 six packs of plants. The light fixtures are low profile T-8 florescent bulbs, so your plants will be able to grow taller. This unit puts out a quality and spectrum of light that is comparable to 85% of sun light, so it is suitable for growing food indoors or for starting seedlings to transplant. The Glow N Grow is 55 inches tall x 49 inches wide by 22 inches deep. You can start 288 transplants for your garden, or grow fewer larger plants, such as lettuce, herbs, or spinach to maturity. The deluxe garden is solidly constructed with reinforced joints, and sells for $460.95.
The Single Light Glow’n Grow Light Garden Kit is the same as the Glow N Grow Light Garden, except it has only one shelf instead of two. It holds 4 standard sized growing trays or 24 six packs. The low profile light fixture encourages your plants to get taller and saves 29% of the electricity over previous models. The light fixture holds 4 T-8 fluorescent bulbs and provides 85% of the light that the direct sun provides. This solid, stand-alone growing system has reinforced joints for more stability. You can start 144 transplants for your garden or grow veggies and herbs, and the unit will pay for itself within one to two uses. It stands 32 inches high by 49 inches long by 22 inches deep and costs about $325.
The Two Tier Lighting Cart comes with two complete trays measuring 22 inches by 11 inches, giving you more flexibility as to the sizes of each pot to use in the growing trays. Each shelf has an adjustable light box with a 20 watt wide spectrum lamp. The cart measures 49 inches tall by 27 inches wide by 12 inches deep and costs about $230.
The XL Ultimate Grow Light has 4 energy saving 4 to 8 watt T-5 fluorescent bulbs which are fully adjustable. The unit measures 18 inches tall by 19 inches wide by 15 inches deep and costs about $100.