Starting a garden indoors
How to start plants indoors -- the right soil, the right lights, the right pots.
Photo Credit: Jami Garrison
One of the best ways to begin a garden if you live in a climate with cold winters is indoors. It allows your plants to get a good head start on the growing season, which makes them stronger and nearly ready to produce by the time they're planted outside.
Most plants can be started indoors. Most also require some kind of grow lights for heat and light, in order to grow properly (many plants, without grow lights, won't get very big or strong, and may die before they can be planted outdoors).
Purchase seeds from your local nursery or through a mail-order company about three months before you intend to plant outdoors (typically in mid- to late May in most cold climates. Don't plant until all danger of frost has passed). Start the plants in small plastic containers. You can purchase empty flats from nurseries to start your plants in. Think about investing in a plastic cover for them, as this will keep heat in, and help them to grow at first. If they grow well, they will soon push the lid off.
Plant the seeds in the little plastic containers, about two or three seeds per section. Use high quality potting soil for this; the nutrients will help your plants get a good start. For some types of plants, such as soybeans, you can even start them in plain sand. This helps them drain nicely and will help them grow quickly and strongly. Don't try this with your tomato plants, though!
Water the plants and place them in a safe room (away from pets and small children) with a container underneath the plastic containers to catch the water. Set the grow light on them, roughly 1 - 2 feet above the container. Leave the grow light on about 8 to 10 hours a day. Water them every couple of days; the soil should stay slightly damp at all times. If it gets looking dry, the plants will wilt and begin to die. Lots of water is required if this happens.
When the weather begins to warm up, take the plants outside sometimes and let them get natural sun. Don't leave them outside overnight, and don't put them out at all if the temperature is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the plants begin to get fairly large, transfer them to small peat pots (the two inch size is fine). Plant most vegetables roughly how they are already growing - bury the roots and nothing more. Tomatoes should be stripped of their lower leaves and planted with some of their stem buried as well. Put the peat pots in the large container and water them.
Your plants, with grow lights, good soil, and room to grow, will do just that. For plants that get very large, put them in larger peat pots (four inch should work). Keep them inside and safe from the weather until at least mid-April. Then, if the weather is mostly warm and nice, they can be left outside, in their pots, most of the time. Don't plant them yet, because you can still get the occasional freeze!
At the end of May, take your plants outside and plant them. Again, strip the lower leaves of the tomato plants off and bury them partially up their stems. Your plants should be strong, large, and nearly ready to produce fruit or vegetables!