In nature, all plants start from seeds and under the right conditions manage to flourish under their own devices and develop into lush healthy specimens. However, when we want to start our vegetable gardens often the seeds need a little help to ensure the conditions are right to get our plants off to a good start. It can seem a little daunting to start from seed and it can be tempting to let the garden centres do this for us and pick up some seedlings closer to the day when frost is no longer a risk.
The thing is – sowing seeds isn’t all that difficult, and is a lot more affordable with many packets costing around $3 or $4 for up to thousands of seeds. It is also very rewarding to watch those tiny seeds emerge from the bare soil into the green seedlings that will grow strong and bear the harvest of your garden in the coming months. It can also keep your green fingers busy tending the seedlings indoors while you wait for the spring to be warm enough to plant things outside.
The first important point is you don’t need to rush and start things early. All plants have their own sense of timing and often we are trying to get them to do things outside their comfort zone, which can sometimes work to our benefit. Peppers need a long growing season to produce a good harvest in mid to late summer, so by starting the seeds in very early spring and keeping them safe and warm will mean the plants will be more advanced in their development by the time they are planted out. They are slow growing, stocky plants and are easily managed indoors. Pumpkins on the other hand grow quickly and so only need about a month indoors to get going before desperately needing to be planted outside. And then you find if, when the time is right, you sow a seed directly outdoors at the same time as planting the seedling in the ground – in a matter of weeks you won’t know which is which. So there is no advantage to starting these early.
Experience can teach you how long plants need between sowing and planting, as you untangle cucumber tendrils from a leggy tomato plant while observing a frozen garden out of the window. The seed packet may say it can be sown from Early Spring, but it may not be the case in your area. Find out when your average last frost date is in your area count back start your seeds then. For most of us it is Labour weekend in October. As a guide - three months before the last frost sow Eggplant, Pepper and Celery; two months before the last frost sow Tomato, Sweetcorn, Beans, Melons and one month before the last frost sow Lettuce, Beans, Pumpkin, Squash, Cucumber and Zucchini.