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NC State Extension

Starting Vegetables From Seeds

en Español

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Spring-like days in the middle of the winter are all it takes to get one excited about the upcoming summer garden. A great way to get a head start is to start vegetables from seed.

There are many reasons to start your vegetables from seed. For one, it is less expensive. Seed costs less than buying transplants in the stores. Another reason is that you can choose from a much greater selection of cultivars. Your local garden centers carry only a small selection of cultivars. By starting your own from seed, you can look through all the seed catalogs and pick and choose the cultivars you want to grow in your garden.

Of course, there is a trade-off when it comes to starting your own vegetables. You need to have the space and the time. Depending on the vegetables you choose to grow, they will need anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks until they are ready to transplant.

The first step in starting seed is choosing the proper growing media. There are many ways to start seed, but the two major requirements to successful seed germination are to make sure you have adequate drainage and aeration.

Light and heat also are important when growing vegetable seed. Heat will help speed up the germination of your seed. Heating mats are available, while some people place the seed mat on top of the refrigerator where it is warm all the time.

Newly germinated seed will need anywhere from 12 to 16 hours of light. Since the winter sun is less intense than the summer sun, you may need to supplement your transplants with fluorescent lighting. This will help produce a strong, stocky plant. Low light produces weak, spindly plants that may not survive once planted in the garden.

The final step needed before planting in the garden is the process known as hardening off. Hardening off is a way to make the transition from the home to the garden. The outdoors will create more stress on the transplant. Therefore, plants must be gradually exposed to these stressful factors in order for the plant to make a smooth transition. To do this, take your plants outside for several hours during the day and gradually build up to leaving them outside permanently.

Time and space is all that is needed in order to produce vegetables from seed.

More information on home vegetable gardening

Ben Dungan