Seed Buying & Growing Guide

Enjoy fresh vegetables all summer long! You’ll be able to serve vegetables fresh from your garden this summer when you plant a variety of vegetable seeds this spring. Most vegetables are annual plants that grow quickly and will be available for harvest in one to three months time. Some seeds do better if started inside first, while others actually grow better if sowed directly into the ground. Before you become dazzled by the amazing variety of seeds you can buy, take some time to ask yourself a few simple questions, such as:

What types of vegetables do you want to grow? Do you have the right light and space to start seeds inside? Are the vegetables you have in mind suited for your region? Have you chosen vegetables that make transplanting easy? Which works best for you — seed packets or seed kits?


Types, Seeding Inside, Planting Tips and Direct Sowing

There are many types of vegetables to choose from, and the ones you select will depend upon your tastes and the growing conditions in your garden. Before you buy vegetable seeds, read seed packets carefully to ensure you can provide the right soil, amount of water and sunlight required. Some vegetables grow much better if they are started inside about six weeks before the estimated final frost date. Familiarize yourself with some tips and techniques for starting seeds inside. Some vegetables grow best when sown directly into the garden. For these types, and for any vegetable seedlings you buy, it’s good to familiarize yourself with a few basic planting tips to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Types: In general, vegetables are either cool- or warm-season crops. Cool-season vegetables, such as peas, lettuce and root crops, are planted when the soil is still cool so there is sufficient growing time before the hot days of summer. Crops such as peas and spinach, for example, can germinate seeds in soil as cool as 40°. Your best bet is to plant cool-season vegetables approximately two weeks before the final frost at the start of spring. Warm-season crops love the warmth of the sun and should only be planted in soil temperatures of 60° to 70°. Plant warm-season crops like squash, beans, corn, melons and cucumbers about two weeks after the final spring frost.Warm-season vegetables grow best in soil that is warmer both day and night If planted too early, vegetables may take longer to begin producing Soluble fertilizers help plants growing in cold soil by making nutrients quickly available Early spring crops, such as onions, lettuce, carrots and broccoli, tolerate a few light freezes.

Seeding Inside: You can really get a jump on the growing season by starting seeds indoors, especially if you live in a region that has a short growing season. Prepare your seed flats, or any small containers, with commercial potting soil about six weeks before the last frost is expected. Fill the containers 1/2″ from the top and level the surface. Plant seeds according to the directions on the seed packet and cover with soil. Lightly mist the soil or place the container in water to draw up moisture from the bottom. Don’t forget to label the flats so you can identify your vegetables when they begin to sprout.Press tiny seeds lightly into the soil, rather than burying them too deeply Cover containers with plastic to increase moisture retention Germination rates vary, so check the seed package for specifics After you see sprouts, remove the plastic and keep seedlings moist Move pots into a sunny room for bright, indirect light or use fluorescent lights.

Planting Tips: Whether you are transplanting seedlings you started inside or are using starter plants, the steps are essentially the same. Most importantly, do not plant too early as even one night of frost can kill young plants. If transplanting seedlings you started inside, set the plants outside a few hours each day for a week to ten days to acclimate them to outdoor conditions prior to moving them. Before planting, prepare the soil with manure or compost and rake out large rocks and clumps of other matter. Next, sculpt rows or beds to receive the plants. Follow instructions on the seed packet to determine vegetable spacing and depth.Before transplanting, water both the plants and the ground Choose a calm, cloudy day for planting so plants won’t get too much sun Water transplants daily for about a week until well established Consult the vegetable seed packet about thinning young plants Use mulch to control weeds and help retain water and nutrients.

Direct Sowing: Some vegetable seeds, such as corn, melons, squash, beans and peas, are better off sown directly into your garden. Before you plant, make sure the soil is warm enough for the seeds you have chosen. Some seeds will germinate in cool temperatures of 40° and you can plant these as soon as the soil is workable. Other seeds require warm soil around 65° or so. Depending upon the space you have for your garden, you can plant your crops in a variety of patterns, though the best layout depends upon the unique requirements of each plant. Consult the planting directions on the back of each seed packet to determine how far apart your rows should be and which plants need to be planted in beds or atop small hills.Some gardeners use soil thermometers to be certain of soil temperatures If seed packet instructions are missing, plant a seed at roughly twice its diameter Mist young seedlings frequently to encourage germination without disturbing the soil Avoid sowing too densely — thinning disturbs the remaining seedlings Protect seedlings from frost and grazing animals with a row cover, if necessary

Vegetable Seed Selection Chart
Vegetable Best Started Indoors Best Started Outdoors
Beans . Anytime after last spring frost
Beets . 4 weeks before to 4 weeks after last spring frost
Broccoli 6 to 8 weeks before last spring frost .
Cabbage 6 to 8 weeks before last spring frost .
Carrots . 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost
Celery 6 to 8 weeks before last spring frost .
Corn . 2 weeks after last spring frost
Cucumbers . 1 to 2 weeks after last spring frost
Lettuce 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost .
Onions . 4 weeks after last spring frost
Peas . 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost
Peppers 8 to 10 weeks before last spring frost .
Potatoes . 2 to 4 weeks before last spring frost
Radishes . 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost
Spinach . 4 to 6 weeks before last spring frost
Summer and Winter Squash . 1 week after last spring frost


Seed Packets: Many varieties of vegetables are sold in seed packets. The package lists most of the important information you need to know about seeding and planting and whether the vegetables are hardy in the zone in which you live. Check the package date to ensure the seeds are less than one year old and also look for a germination rate of 75% or higher for seeds that are to be sown directly into the ground. If you start seeds indoors, germination rates are usually higher.

Seed Kits: Seed kits are groupings of seeds sold in one package. For example, you could buy an onion lover’s seed kit, containing one package each of a group of different onion varieties. Another example might include a salad seed kit, containing special varieties of lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber seeds. Seed kits often include extras, such as growing and harvesting instructions, recipe ideas, marking stakes and a pencil.

Plants: Vegetables are also sold garden-ready in containers that include from one to more than a dozen plants. Planting starter plants means you will probably see vegetables sooner than if you started from seed. This is especially helpful if you do not have room or the right growing conditions to start seeds. The downside is that plants are more expensive than seeds and the variety is usually not as extensive. Planting instructions vary, so check the stake that comes with the container for the correct directions for soil type, sun exposure, watering recommendations and spacing.

Hybrids: Some vegetable seeds are hybrids, which means they have been developed by interbreeding two or more varieties. Hybrids usually possess the best qualities of their parent varieties and are often bred for their resistance to pests, hardier growing characteristics and better taste.

Raised Bed or Container Gardens: Adding raised beds to your garden brings style and order to outdoor areas. They are available in easy-to-assemble kits or can be made using lumber, railroad ties or a number of other materials. Raised beds help keep soil loose and aerated since you avoid stepping on the area around plants while working. They also offer excellent drainage and reduce strain on your back by bringing the plants closer to you. A variety of different types of planters and other containers allow you to grow vegetables in areas such as a porch or patio.

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