The Vegetable Seed Starting Guide I Wish I Had When I First Began Growing My Own Vegetable Seedlings
I liked the idea of growing my own vegetable plants from seeds ever since I started gardening in year 2014. But back then, I lived in a flat with no balcony, no backyard or any other outside space. So, I couldn’t really try it…
But things change, and in the years that followed, I moved with my wife into a house that has balcony and a backyard too. The coronavirus pandemic hit soon afterwards, and we found ourselves in the lockdown. Suddently, I had plenty of time and was finally in a position to dive into vegetable seed starting!
It’s been years now since that very first serious attempt at growing my own vegetable seedlings from seeds. And what an adventure that has been! I even wrote an ebook about it which you can download for free right here.
Today, I no longer buy vegetable seedlings from plant nurseries. Instead, I grow my own using organic soil and organic fertilizers. I do it both outdoors and indoors. It took years of learning and experimenting and many, many failures to perfect the process, but now I consistently raise plants that are (at least in my opinion) healthier and stronger than those you can find at nurseries.
If you’re looking to learn how to grow your own vegetable seedlings at home – whether inside, outside, or both – you’re in the right place. I share everything I know. In a step by step manner. But before you dive in, you may want to get familiar with all the pros and cons of vegetable seed starting. It is good to know what you’re getting yourself into before you spend you time and money on it, right?
The growing place
The very first step in vegetable seed starting is finding a suitable place. By “suitable” I mean an outdoor spot that receives at least four hours of direct sunlight per day – the more sunlight, the better. And, if it is also shielded from rain and wind, that is also an advantage.
Find a south-facing and rain-shielded balcony, terrace, porch, patio or veranda
In my case, I found such a spot on a south-facing and rain-shielded balcony in our backyard. By mid-spring, when days are already warm, sunny and bright, and the night temperatures rarely drop all the way down to freezing point, I can successfully growing cool season vegetable seedlings there without any additional cold protection…
However, I do need to bring the plants inside (or protect them from cold in some other way) whenever there is a spring frost or cold spell in the weather forecast. They may survive it, but it is just not worth the risk.
If you can find a similar spot around your house, like a terrace, porch, patio or veranda, it should work great – as long as it receives enough direct sunlight. A location like this is perfect for raising cold-tolerant vegetable seedlings (brassicas, beetroot, lettuce, leeks and many others) from mid-to-late-spring onwards, when the weather has already warmed up significantly and nights are no longer freezing.
You need to stay away from north-facing areas though. Those spots are colder and receive much less sunlight and warmth than the south-facing ones. Growing there may lead to leggy and weak plants that are more prone to common plant diseases, such as damping-off.
Add a miniature greenhouse or cold frame to it for some extra cold protection
Now, if you would like to start growing cool-season vegetable plants even earlier in spring – when the days have already warmed up, but the nights remain chilly (though not freezing) – or if you want to grow warm season vegetable plants outside as well, then a south-facing outdoor area alone will not suffice. In these cases, you will need a more effective cold protection…
A typical greenhouse or a polytunnel would be ideal for this purpose. If you have the capacity for it, then definitely go for it!
Unfortunately, due to the limited space around the house we currently live in, a typical greenhouse or a polytunnel wasn’t (and still isn’t) an option for me. So, I had to come up with a different solution – something I call a miniature greenhouse. It is essentially a combination of polytunnel and a cold frame with an insulated bottom. This setup has turned out to be effective in safeguarding my seedlings from the cold.
With this miniature greenhouse, I can successfully keep my established cold-season vegetable seedlings outside early in spring, even during ocassional frosts or cold spells. What’s more, I can also start raising warm-season vegetable seedlings in it about a month before the last expected spring frost date.
Take things even further with indoor vegetable seed starting
You can accomplish a lot with a south-facing, rain-shielded balcony and an insulated miniature greenhouse. But the outdoor setup is not perfect. The unpredictable cool weather in spring can easily harm your plants, particularly the tender, young sprouts, if you are not cautious. And that is where indoor vegetable seed starting comes into play…
With it, you can start growing both cool-season and warm-season vegetable plants much earlier, even when it is still freezing outside, without worrying about the cold damaging them.
It was only in my third vegetable seed starting season that I gave it a try. I bought the indoor growing lights, and they weren’t cheap, but I quickly realized what a game changer they are. Ever since, I have had far fewer plants lost due to damping off. Plus, the warm season plants are much stronger and larger when the time comes to move them to the garden. This is how my indoor vegetable seed starting setup looks like at the moment.